PD Editorial: A simmering threat to public health

  • A sign marks the entrance to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, in Atlanta. The government shutdown has slowed or halted federal efforts to protect Americans' health and safety, from probes into the cause of transportation and workplace accidents to tracking the flu. The latest example: investigating an outbreak of salmonella in chicken that has sickened people in 18 states. The CDC has recalled some of its furloughed staff to deal with the salmonella outbreak, which has sickened more than 270 people and was announced by the Agriculture Department late Monday. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

News item: Federal health officials reported that at least two million Americans contract antibiotic-resistant infections annually, and about 23,000 people die.

Overpresription of antibiotics is a major contributor, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So is preventive treatment of poultry and other food animals, which accounts for about 70 percent of antibiotic usage in the United States.

News item: An especially virulent salmonella outbreak was traced to chicken from Foster Farms, a Merced County-based poultry supplier.

Hundreds of people have become ill, almost half have been hospitalized, and the CDC said several antibiotic-resistant strains of the disease are involved.

News item: Lobbyists for farmers and pharmaceutical manufacturers have stymied federal efforts to reduce the use of antibiotics to promote growth and prevent illness in food animals, academic researchers reported Tuesday.

The report from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future is itself an assessment of what's happened in the five years since a panel of experts warned that excessive agricultural use of antibiotics presented a growing threat to human health and recommended a ban on non-therapeutic use in food animals.

"There has been an appalling lack of progress," said Robert S. Lawrence, a physician and the director of the Center for a Livable Future.

Legislation to restrict antibiotic use has been bottled up in Congress for more than a decade, and proposed Food and Drug Administration regulations have been watered down to the point that they would be practically meaningless.

All this inaction is worse than short-sighted. It's irresponsible, verging on negligent.

Antibiotics truly are life-saving drugs. Before they were developed in the early 20th century, infections routinely cost people limbs and even their lives. Besides ordinary infections, they're now vital for organ transplants and other complex procedures, protecting against post-surgical infections.

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