A Little Bit Country: Combating Antibiotic Resistance

Last week I attended the statewide conference of NDSU Extension and Research staff. The conference offered a multitude of sessions making it impossible to attend all. One of the sessions I attended involved the use of antibiotics in the livestock industry. Dr. Gerald Stokka, NDSU Extension Veterinarian and who is also involved in the Livestock Stewardship Program, presented a report given to the President on combating antibiotic resistance. This is part of an effort by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).

The focus of PCAST is: 1) to improve our surveillance of the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, to enable effective response, stop outbreaks, and limit the spread of antibiotic-resistant organisms, and acting on surveillance data to implement appropriate infection control; 2) increase the longevity of current antibiotics, by improving the appropriate use of existing antibiotics, preventing the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and scaling up proven interventions to decrease the rate at which microbes develop resistance to current antibiotics; and 3) increase the rate at which new antibiotics, as well as other interventions, are discovered and developed.

Besides human health, medically important antibiotics are extensively used in animal agriculture not only to treat sick animals, but also to promote animal growth and to prevent infections. All of these uses can promote the development of antibiotic resistance among bacteria in animals and these resistant strains can spread to humans. While the extent to which antibiotic resistance to animal agriculture contributes to human infections is not known, the risk to human health posed by the agricultural use of antibiotics is, appropriately, a matter of very serious concern.

The PCAST report includes several recommendations. One urges USDA to develop, in collaboration with the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the agriculture industry, a comprehensive research and development strategy to promote the creation of alternatives to or improved uses of antibiotics in food animals, including through public-private partnerships and combination with biomedical research. To accomplish this and other recommendations PCAST suggests the formation of an Innovative Institute that will bring together university and USDA scientists, private companies to study antibiotic resistance and to develop alternatives to antibiotic use in agriculture, including creating opportunities for new business ventures. This Institute will require $25 million in annual funding which already has been requested in the Presidents FY15 Budget.

As this effort to reduce antibiotic use and develop new protocols to conduct diseases, we can look forward to an antibiotic usage fee. Antibiotic sales in human health and agriculture are estimated at $12 billion per year. A user fee of five percent could generate $600 million. This money would be devoted to incentivize the development of new antibiotics and support additional recommendations. Throughout Dr. Stokka’s presentation I did not hear of any effort of PCAST to eliminate the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture.

For an American in the 21st century it is hard to imagine the world before antibiotics. Dr. Stokka gave the following data. At the beginning of the 20th century, as many as nine women out of every 1000 who gave birth died, 40 percent from sepsis. In some cities as many as 30 percent of children died before their first birthday. One of every nine people who developed a serious skin infection died, even from something as simple as a scrape or an insect bite. Pneumonia killed 30 percent of those who contacted it; meningitis killed 70 percent. Ear infections caused deafness; sore throats were not infrequently followed by rheumatic fever and heart failure. Surgical procedures were associated with high morbidity and mortality due to infection.

Congratulations Due

During the conference mentioned above the NDSU Extension Service and the Farm and Ranch Guide recognize a select few of the educational programs offered by staff. One of the top programs recognized was “Nourishing Boomers and Beyond”. This program was designed to improve the “Boomers and Beyond”, 50+ audiences, health literacy. The program used community classes, printed materials, recipe demonstrations and technology-based approaches to reach an average of 300 people in each class per month. The program involved nine classes. Additionally the web page has had more than 18,600 views and 1400 ongoing users. The e-newsletter associated with the program has 630 subscribers from 48 countries. I am proud to say my wife Mary Froelich was part of the team which delivered this valuable effort.


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