Antibiotic Use on Farms Drops

In unexpected but good news, the FDA announced this week that antibiotic sales for use on farm animals has dropped 10% since they began collecting data in 2009. Overuse of antibiotics is a major contributor to antibiotic resistance, which is going to have life and death consequences for all of us (mostly on the death side). Farms use antibiotics to prevent animals from getting sick, and they also have the nice side effect of making animals grow faster, which means more meat eating and more money. Though the 2016 antibiotic sales numbers are still higher than in 2009, it is a step in the right direction.

According to a statement from Avinash Kar, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, “this course change provides a glimmer of hope that we can beat the growing epidemic of drug-resistant infections.”

Many large poultry company have made commitments over the past two years to reduce antibiotic use in chickens. Perdue Farms has led the way in this effort, and the vast majority of the company’s chickens now get no antibiotics at all.

The Post Antibiotic World Is Coming for All of Us

We are all dependent on antibiotics. Many of us likely take them for granted. As discussed here and here, the world is running out of effective antibiotics. Increasing antibiotic resistance means not being able to treat what we consider today to be regular, run of the mill infections.

Chris Linaman, a “superbug survivor” has shared his story to raise awareness of the danger and devastation of antibiotic resistance. Linaman was recovering from ACL surgery with no complications, until one morning when he woke up with a massively swollen knee. He was diagnosed with MRSA and had emergency surgery. A few days after being sent home from the hospital, he developed a high fever of 105 degrees and was found almost unconscious. As Linaman describes:

Luckily, the spinal tap showed the infection had not yet gotten to my brain. But I needed to have even more surgeries to get rid of it, and I also lost my epidermis—the outer layer of my skin—over my entire body, due to an allergic reaction to the antibiotic they were using to treat me…My leg muscles were wrecked from all of the surgeries, and it took extensive physical therapy to get me back to anything resembling normal…

Beyond the physical trauma, the whole ordeal also nearly ruined our family financially, and it was emotionally devastating as well. At the time, our two kids were just 2 and 4 years old, and they didn’t understand what was going on. It still breaks my heart to think about it. Those were the darkest days of my life, and, honestly, it’s hard to believe that I’m still here…

As horrible as my MRSA infection was, I’m the “good” outcome—I survived. Way too many others have not.

After recovering, Linaman went on to work as an executive chef at a medical center. One thing Linaman and other experts have stressed is the importance of reducing animal use of antibiotics. Linaman created a policy that “prioritizes bringing healthy food to our community and gives preference to food producers who are working to reduce antibiotic use.”

So we need to do anything and everything we can to conserve these lifesaving drugs so that they work when they’re needed—that includes making sure antibiotics are used appropriately and only when necessary—both in people and in animals.”

Not the Disney Trip You’re Expecting

Twelve cases of Legionnaires disease have been found in recent Disneyland visitors. The outbreak was traced to two cooling towers contaminated with the bacteria.

Legionnaires is a severe form of pneumonia, caused by exposure to contaminated water, or mist. It is contracting by inhaling the microscopic water droplets that contain the bacteria and develops two to ten days after exposure. Outbreaks have been linked to a variety of water sources: hot tubs, swimming pools, air conditioners, and other water systems in large buildings. It is treatable via antibiotics (while they still work anyway), but can lead to life-threatening complications and may be fatal. People with weakened immune systems are especially at risk.

Meanwhile, Disney has shut down the contaminated cooling towers and treated them with chemicals to destroy the bacteria. A bit of an ominous uptick in Legionnaires has been recorded this year. According to the LA Times:

Orange County has recorded more than 55 cases of the disease this year and has seen the number of cases jump in recent years. A similar upward trend has been seen nationally and elsewhere in Southern California, according to the healthcare agency, though what’s causing that is unclear.

“Post-Antibiotic Apocalypse”

Forget about preparing for zombie outbreaks. Well, not completely, for obvious reasons. The obvious reasons are that I believe it’s only a matter of time before 28 Days Later becomes a reality, but it’s not worth the energy worrying about. Instead, we should all worry about “the end of modern medicine” as we know it. Increasing antibiotic resistance means not being able to treat what we consider today to be regular, run of the mill infections. It means all surgery, c-sections, cancer treatments, and transplants become potentially lethal.

An article in The Guardian notes:

Each year about 700,000 people around the world die due to drug-resistant infections including tuberculosis, HIV and malaria. If no action is taken, it has been estimated that drug-resistant infections will kill 10 million people a year by 2050.

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, spoke recently at a symposium at Harvard Business School. He says the spread of antibiotic resistance is caused by several things:

Rampant overprescribing, to the widespread use of the drugs to promote livestock growth, and to the relative trickle of new drugs being developed as possible replacements…

The greatest antibiotic use — 70 percent — is in livestock, and more than half of that isn’t because the animals are sick, but for “growth promotion” in crowded settings….

The slow pace of drug development is largely due to poor economic incentives. Antibiotics tend to be inexpensive and taken by patients for a relatively short time, so there is less demand for them than for drugs for chronic conditions. Further, new antibiotics are used more sparingly so they will remain effective when resistance develops to other drugs, a strategy that, while sound from a public health standpoint, does not boost profits.

Drug companies, eager to unethically make as much money as possible, are in on the 28 Days Later plot. Oops, I mean drug companies should reconsider their strategy because if everyone dies no one is going to buy their drugs anyway.

On an more uplifting note, Halloween is coming up! This is a good time for everyone to watch or re-watch 28 Days Later, as well as the darker sequel 28 Weeks Later (or your favorite zombie-pandemic movie). Just be careful you don’t watch 28 Days instead, which I have accidentally done before.

The Plague is Back!

Actually, it never left. At least not in Madagascar, where plague is endemic, and is reported every year in the area. In fact, they even have a plague season. It runs from September through April, and they usually get about 400 cases each year. However, according the WHO “the ongoing pneumonic plague event has been reported in a non-endemic area and in densely populated cities for the first time.”  There have already been more then 300 cases and 40 deaths in Madagascar and plague season is just getting started.

Usually, bubonic plague is the more common form in this area, and is transmitted via fleas. Pneumonic plague, which effects the lungs, is airborne, and is therefore more easily spread and more deadly. If left untreated, bubonic plague travels to the lungs and becomes pneumonic plague. Without antibiotics, pneumonic plague is 100% fatal. The WHO is working on distributing more antibiotics, but for a disease that’s spread via the air and has reached a densely populated area, they are facing a complicated race against time.

WHO Plague Fact Sheet