Excessive use of antibiotics in livestock is creating new health dangers for children, reports a paper published online Nov. 16 in the journal Pediatrics. According to the authors, the common practice of adding antibiotics to the feed of healthy farm animals over a prolonged period of time is contributing to the growing health crisis of drug-resistant infections in kids.
“Children can be exposed to multiple drug-resistant bacteria, which are extremely difficult to treat if they cause an infection through contact with animals given antibiotics and through consuming the meat of those animals,” report author Jerome Paulson, MD, immediate past chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) executive committee of the Council on Environmental Health, said in an AAP news release.
At issue is the practice of giving livestock feed laced with antibiotics to promote growth, increase food efficiency and prevent disease. The authors and the AAP have no problem with the latter, but take exception with the wholesale use of the drugs for nontherapeutic purposes without medical supervision.
“Like humans, farm animals should receive appropriate antibiotics for bacterial infections,” Paulson, said. “However, the indiscriminate use of antibiotics without a prescription or the input of a veterinarian puts the health of children at risk.”
And that risk is no small matter. According to the paper, each year more than 2 million people in the U.S. become ill with such antibiotic-resistant infections as MRSA, C.difficile and highly resistant strains of tuberculosis. Among this group, 23,000 die from the infections.
The concern is that approximately 60 percent of the antibiotics sold for use in feed for food-producing animals are considered important in human medicine. Overexposure to the drugs renders the antibiotics ineffective when needed for treating infections in kids.
“Antibiotic resistance is becoming a bigger and bigger problem, both in kids and adults, so much so that some infections are becoming difficult if not impossible to treat,” David Haslam, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and the director of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, told CBS News.
Children with compromised immune systems are especially at risk, including kids going through cancer treatment, bone marrow transplants or organ transplants. Kids in the hospital for trauma and some other serious problems can be more at risk too, Haslem explained.
Paulson and his colleagues suggest that parents buy beef, pork and poultry raised without antibiotics. But they also recognize that measures to reduce antibiotic use in animals by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and by members of Congress have met with strong opposition from the agricultural and farming industries.
“The message is to change the practice of agribusiness, either through government changes or marketplace changes, so everybody is safer,” Paulson told CBS News. “I think if people vote with their pocketbooks, then industry will be required to change,” he added.
“Hopefully, the USDA and FDA will require them to change. I think this is something that with a large movement in society, the industry will be forced to change,” Paulson said.