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The Student News Site of Rock Bridge High School

Bearing News

The Student News Site of Rock Bridge High School

Bearing News

Antibiotic resistance threatens modern health care


When it comes to healthy living, junior Megan Polniak fits the description perfectly. She eats right thanks to her dietitian mom, she eats kosher because of her religion and she keeps an active lifestyle throughout the week. Unfortunately, a health crisis on the rise that no amount of leafy greens can protect her against.Polniak first heard about antibiotic resistance in her biology class last year. There, she learned about how super bacteria has become one of the biggest biological problems.
“Meat plays such a big part of the amino acids that you have to have present in your diet,” Polniak said, “and you can’t really get some of those same amino acids from most plants and soy products. I don’t eat some meats. They’re so processed and can contribute to cancer.”
Polniak recognizes that animal agriculture contributes substantially to resistance; however, she isn’t cutting out the animal products just yet.
“I think that there are some meats that should be avoided but as of now antibiotic resistance isn’t such a problem, at least for me,” she said, “that should exclude things from diets such as turkey or other poultry meats.”
World War ll marked the beginning of the age of antibiotics, with pharmaceutical companies making use of the drugs feasible for the average person. Although antibiotics are crucial to the treatment of bacterial infections, widespread use has paved the way for widespread resistance.The rates of infection via antibiotic resistant bacteria have risen considerably since the 1940s, going from a few cases 60 years ago to two million annually today.
Experts warn that if heavy precautions aren’t taken soon, bacterial infections will go back to being extremely common and deadly even to people who have access to health care. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, misuse of antibiotics in medicine and agriculture is one of the main contributors to this problem.
Dr. Michael Baldwin, an assistant professor of molecular microbiology and immunology believes collaboration is the best way to stop antibacterial resistance from becoming an even bigger problem.
“If we are to continue relying on antibiotics to treat infectious diseases it will require a concerted effort on the part of microbiologists, chemists, engineers, physicians and politicians. We will need to encourage pharmaceutical companies to once again invest significant resources in identifying and developing new compounds that possess antimicrobial activity,” Dr. Baldwin said. “We must also do a better job of limiting the indiscriminate use of antibiotics to treat human diseases.”
It’s not just misuse of antibiotics with human populations that impacts the rate at which bacteria grow resistant to antibiotics. In factory farms, animals are given low doses of antibiotics frequently in order to provide “preventative care.” This practice may help animals when it comes to infection, however it’s unfortunately also a perfect environment for antibiotic resistance Dr. John Ikerd, a retired professor of agriculture at the University of Missouri-Columbia said.
Dr. Ikerd thinks that the procedure of treating sick animals should be changed, as well as the conditions they live in.
“Antibiotics should be prescribed for individual ‘sick’ animals the same as they are for humans – high levels for a short duration. Antibiotic-free livestock production is quite feasible and economically viable it just takes better animal health management. Sick animals can be treated and isolated from the rest of the herds or flocks for a period of time that makes treatment of other animals unnecessary,” Dr. Ikerd said. “In a sustainable animal agriculture cattle, sheep and hogs would all spend most of their time outside on clean pastures, not in confinement. Indoor facilities for inclement weather and protection from predators would have fresh deep bedding that would be managed to prevent buildup of harmful bacteria.”
Dr. Baldwin sees both sides of the animal agriculture and antibiotic resistance problem. The obvious benefits include faster weight gain, lower rates of disease and animal to human transmission of infections. Still, Dr. Baldwin does acknowledge the problems with antibiotics  in animal agriculture.
“It is clear that the widespread use of antibiotics in agriculture does contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance and that these resistant organisms could transmit to the human population,” Baldwin said. “While I do not think it is a big threat to the human population, it is certainly one factor that can and should be addressed in our attempts to control the spread of resistance.”
Research into the connection between poor living conditions for livestock and antibiotic resistance is one of Dr. Ikerd’s focuses in his numerous articles.
“These antibiotic-resistant strains have been shown by public health studies to be spread to people in concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) communities by workers in CAFOs and the families of CAFO workers [and] by children of workers going to school, for example,” Dr. Ikerd said. “Antibiotic resistant bacteria is also in manure from CAFOs. Some of the bacteria from CAFOs get into groundwater through leaks in manure holding ponds or pits. Most of the manure is spread as raw manure, without treatment to kill bacteria, onto fields for fertilizer. The bacteria then pollute the streams and groundwater through runoff and leaching.”
Although a student can’t single-handedly end antibiotic resistance, Dr. Baldwin recommends using antibiotics for as long as specified, not just until one feels better.  He also recommends that people avoid using unnecessary antibiotics by getting the correct diagnosis and learning the difference between a viral and bacterial infection. At the end of the day, Dr. Baldwin said he just wants students to be aware of the threat.
“The increasing number of bacteria with resistance to multiple antibiotics poses a very real risk to the human population. The emergence of these so-called superbugs has the potential to set human medicine back many years,” Baldwin said.  “For example, many routine surgeries performed in the U.S. rely on prophylactic antibiotics to prevent infection of the patient. Should the prevalence of these superbugs continue to increase, many surgical procedures will become much riskier due to the threat of infection.”

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    19JL01Jan 31, 2016 at 8:25 pm

    This story did a nice job informing readers about the current issues associated with the food we eat and allowing the readers to be aware of what they are putting in their diet. I think some people reading this were able to be more conscious about the different antibiotic resistances that could threaten modern health care and also gain other information on the topic.

    • G

      Grace DorseyFeb 6, 2016 at 8:53 pm

      Thank you for the thoughtful comment!