Evidence of the passing of the potentially deadly antibiotic-resistant infection MRSA from animals to humans just grew stronger according to a new study out of the University of Cambridge.
The Cambridge scientists, using DNA fingerprinting, matched MRSA superbugs in two different people to MRSA in the cows and sheep on the farms where they lived. They could not say for sure who gave MRSA to whom, but they felt it was most likely that the farmers got sick from their animals. A previous study found a strain of MRSA that jumped from pigs into humans causing illness.
The new study used whole genome sequencing that “provides a level of detail not seen before,” according to Keeve Nachman, scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, and points to the real threat of humans contracting MRSA directly from livestock.
It is data like this that makes Consumers Union believe that antibiotic use in animals should be drastically reduced, and never used for growth promotion.
“Evidence that resistant bacteria transfer from animals to humans should be a clear call for significant, meaningful action to protect one of the greatest advancements in medical history – the development of antibiotics,” said Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY) in a letter to the FDA that implored the agency, once again, to take action to end the overuse of antibiotics in livestock production. She has introduced a bill that would limit use of antibiotics to the treatment of sick animals–prohibiting use for growth promotion or disease prevention.
The Congresswoman also tweeted about the importance of the study’s findings, saying, “It’s confirmed: stopping the overuse of antibiotics in animals is vital to stopping the threat of superbugs.”
Former FDA Commissioner David A. Kessler agrees. His New York Times op-ed this week, “Antibiotics and the Meat We Eat,” points to the clear need for legislative action to curb the overuse of antibiotics in livestock production, but a void of political will to stand up to the meat and pharmaceutical industries is preventing any progress. Not only has Congress yet to do anything to stop the abuse of antibiotics on the farm, they refuse to even require better industry reporting on how the drugs are being used in animals. If they’re serious about the problem, he wants to know, then “Why are lawmakers so reluctant to find out how 80 percent of our antibiotics are used?”
Despite the overwhelming evidence that overuse of antibiotics on the farm is contributing to antibiotic resistance in bacteria that sicken people, we will likely continue to see more studies like the one out of Cambridge until our leaders – nationally and internationally – take action to confront the problem. We can do all the fancy new studies we want – the end results will be the same, says Gail Hansen of Pew Charitable Trusts: “Science and technology advances, but the ultimate conclusion remains the same: using antibiotics to produce meat and poultry breeds dangerous superbugs.”