The latest research study in Australia shows that less antibiotic used in food animals leads to less drug resistance in people. Australia has adopted a policy of restricting antibiotic use in food-producing animals and this may be linked with lower levels of drug-resistant bacteria found in its citizens.
The bacteria Campylobacter jejuni is known to be one of the leading causes of food borne illness in industrialized countries. The drug resistance makes Campylobacter infections difficult for physicians to treat, and can result in longer bouts of diarrhoea and a higher risk of serious or even fatal illness. Bacterial resistance to drugs is generally attributed to inappropriate prescribing or overuse of antibiotics.
Australia has hence adopted a solution to the drug resistance problem that has been to prohibit the use of certain antibiotics, called fluoroquinolones, in food animals such as poultry. This policy has put Australia in a relatively unique position, as its animal and food production levels are comparable to those of other industrialized nations, but it has avoided using the antibiotics that have been standard in the other countries food animal production.
Australian researchers, planning to evaluate whether the results of the policy has affected the bacterial drug resistance, examined C. jejuni isolates collected from 585 patients in five Australian states. They made sure that none of the patients had received fluoroquinolone treatment within the month prior to becoming ill. The researchers discovered that only 2 percent of the locally acquired Campylobacter isolates were resistant to ciprofloxacin, a type of fluoroquinolone. Countries that allow fluoroquinolone use in animals may have a drug resistance prevalence of up to 29 percent. Ciprofloxacin can be used to treat severe Campylobacter disease, so a low level of bacterial drug resistance should lead to better treatment efficacy.
Lead author Leanne Unicomb, an epidemiologist with Oz Food Net and Australia National University, said that there could be different causes that lead to bacterial antibiotic resistance, and use of antibiotics in food animals is only one of the multiple causes. However, she said that the evidence indicates that use of fluoroquinolones in food animals in other countries has increased the risk of resistance in [Campylobacter] isolates infecting humans. The researchers concluded that the low drug resistance they found was probably due Australia's policy of prohibiting the use of fluoroquinolones on animals.
Other industrialized nations have also realized the apparent benefits of restricting antimicrobial use in animals. It was found that both Sweden that had prohibited the use of fluoroquinolones for food animals in 1986 and Norway that had never licensed their use in food animals, had reported low trends like Australia's about fluoroquinolone resistant Campylobacter infecting humans. The United States seems to be taking a cue from other countries' success. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed banning fluoroquinolones in poultry in 2000, but were finally enacted in September 2005.
Reducing the use of antibiotics in food animals, along with the suggestions by the researchers regarding the sensible use of fluoroquinolones in clinical settings could be a steps in the right direction toward curbing harmful food borne bacterial drug resistance, noted many experts.