Antibiotic resistance looms as serious threat to health

Asking Africa to reduce numbers of livestock to meet global climate goals, as one European negotiator suggested earlier this year, is not a solution to the climate change crisis, writes George Wamukoya. [Laika ac/Flickr]

Intestinal bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics have been detected in animals, humans and food in Germany. Experts fear future health problems if steps are not immediately taken. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The emergency antibiotic colistin has long been kept as a last resort against persistent infections. However, germs have been detected in Germany that are resistant to the drug. It is believed that intensive use of antibiotics in Chinese animal husbandry is to blame.

Doctors and veterinarians are equally worried: Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) has conducted a study that found bacteria that are resistant to all forms of antibiotics, including the last line of defence, colistin.

The report found that bacteria with the transferable MCR-1 gene developed resistance to colistin and have been detected in the intestinal tract of farm animals in Germany. The pathogen can also be found in humans. A more widespread resistance to the drug could lead to certain diseases having no viable treatment in the future.

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During the study of poultry flocks, it became apparent that fatal pathogens such as Salmonella and E.coli had in some cases developed resistance to colistin. Resistant-E.coli bacteria were most commonly detected in broiler chickens, as reported in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal.

“These results show that a strategy on responsible antibiotic use has to be pursued,” warned Andreas Hensel, President of the BfR, which carried out the study in conjunction with the German Centre for Infection Research (DZIF). New molecular studies will now provide further information on the risk of transfer between bacteria.

Scienxx recently reported that the resistant bacteria were first detected in China, in November 2015, both in humans and animals, as well as food. The analysis suggests that colistin-resistant pathogens have been present in Europe for some time.

In 2015, Danish authorities detected the gene in poultry meat samples that originated in Germany. It has also been recorded in England and the Netherlands.

>>Read: Food safety agency says foodborne diseases on the rise in the EU

Experts are now worried, because the gene is transferable between bacterial strains. It is possible that resistance could spread quickly and the germs could pose a serious threat to health, warned researchers.

Campylobacter infections increase

To date, campylobacter bacteria are most responsible for foodborne diseases in Germany and Europe. For 2014, the Robert Koch Institute and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) recorded an 11.5% increase in cases on the previous year.

“Every year, around 15,000 die due to antibiotic resistance,” said former Lower Saxony agriculture minister Christian Meyer. He called upon the Federal Minister for Agriculture, Christian Schmidt (CSU), to draw up a list of antibiotics that would no longer be allowed in large-scale farming or only used in limited quantities in emergency situations.

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Hubert Weiger, of the German NGO BUND, also warned against excessive antibiotic use.  “In Germany, over 1,200 tonnes of antibiotics and reserve antibiotics are used in the production of cheap meat products, twice as much as what is used in human medicine. Without the medicines, many animals would not survive the intensive rearing process,” said Weiger in Berlin on Thursday (7 January). “Pressure to produce at a low cost and cruel animal husbandry practices should be replaced by proper conditions and a fair price for the product,” he added.

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