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Scientists Discover New Way Big Pharma Drugs Create Dangerous Superbugs

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Health Issues page and our Factory Farming and Food Safety page.

There's little argument -- even from mainstream medicine -- that too many doctors routinely prescribe antibiotics for illnesses, such as the common cold, for which these prescription drugs do nothing. The result is a potentially nightmarish proliferation of antibiotic resistant superbugs. Bottom line: if people do become ill with a life threatening bacterial infection, antibiotics may no longer have the ability to zap the germs. So, people infected with superbugs have a harder time getting well, longer hospital stays and a greater likelihood of dying. Besides the massive over-prescribing of antibiotics, the use of these pharmaceuticals in animal feed has also been shown to contribute to antibiotic resistance. In fact, animals are a major source of superbugs because they are given the majority of Big Pharma's antibiotics that are sold in the U.S.

Scientists have assumed that antibiotic resistance is developed inside animals who are routinely fed antibiotic-laced food. But now Washington State University (WSU) researchers have found another way the massive use of the pharmaceutical industry's antibiotics can spur on the growth of potentially dangerous superbugs.

Here's the dangerous "recipe" for antibiotic resistant bacteria, according to WSU scientists: Mix cow dung and soil, then add urine infused with metabolized antibiotic. The urine destroys normal E. coli in the dung-soil mixture. And that's when the trouble begins. Antibiotic-resistant E. coli, a dangerous superbug, will survive in the soil and then recolonize in a cow's gut through pasture, forage or bedding.

"I was surprised at how well this works, but it was not a surprise that it could be happening," Doug Call, a molecular epidemiologist in WSU's Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health who led the research, said in a media statement. The results of the study were just published in the journal Plos One.

The scientists zeroed in on the antibiotic ceftiofur, a cephalosporin believed to be spurring the increase in antibiotic resistance in bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli. Ceftiofur has little effect on gut bacteria and about 70 percent of the drug is excreted in the urine. So, the researchers reasoned, urine containing ceftiofur combined with soil is probably the only pathway through which the antibiotic could exert such a large impact on bacteria that can reside in both the gut and the environment.

"If our work turns out to be broadly applicable, it means that selection for resistance to important drugs like ceftiofur occurs mostly outside of the animals," Call stated.

Instead of suggesting that antibiotics stop being used routinely and massively in animals raised as food, the WSU scientists are promoting "engineered solutions to interrupt this process" of antibiotics creating superbugs outside the animals. For example, one possible strategy they suggest is to find a way to isolate and dispose of residual antibiotic after it is excreted from an animal but before it interacts with soil bacteria.



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