Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Breeding super bugs. Or not...

The issue of antibiotic resistance is a constant wrangle in medical circles that spill over into the animal health arena. Recently, for example the FDA hinted it will approve at new class of antibiotics for use in cattle. Some medicos were not amused.
The government is on track to approve a new antibiotic to treat a pneumonia-like disease in cattle, despite warnings from health groups and a majority of the agency's own expert advisers that the decision will be dangerous for people.

The drug, called cefquinome, belongs to a class of highly potent antibiotics that are among medicine's last defenses against several serious human infections. No drug from that class has been approved in the United States for use in animals. [More]
The bone of contention is the FDA lamely defends the possible move as simply following a directive issued earlier. Regardless, this potential problem is receiving mucho scrutiny.

The irony is at the same time physicians are being warned about over-prescribing antibiotics for stuff like ear infections and now sinus infections. (I thought they were the same thing - at least in my aching head).
Evidence from national databases suggests that both acute and chronic sinus inflammation (sinusitis) is being overtreated with poorly chosen medications, researchers report.

Data from 1999 and 2002 collected by the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey suggests that there were roughly 14 million visits annually because of chronic sinusitis and 3 million because of acute sinusitis. [More]
It seems more likely to me overuse in humans is way more conducive to resistant bugs than the more torturous chain of events required to produce superbugs that will leap from cattle to humans.

That said, I'm not a big fan of prophylactic dosing of food animals. I know all the other kids are doing it, but I think it may be one reason alternative meats are slowing eating into the high end market share. While cattlemen get all worked up about defending current practice, nimble competitors listen to consumers.

Beef may be in for a wrenching decade or two. Ethanol will steal their feed and rising affluence will make consumers whiny malcontents. Meanwhile, rugged individualism often interferes with their ability to adapt and change, since kowtowing to market signals could be seen as weakness. This is just my read on the dynamic in cattle country, not fact.

BTW, If you aren't reading our newest columnist, Steve Cornett on the Beef Today Blog, you might want to start. He and I don't see eye to eye on every issue, which probably means he is a little sharper than me. His comments on livestock add a new dimension to AgWeb, and I look forward to linking to and agitating him.

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