Antibiotic resistance: It's farm animals that we should really be worried about

 
Sarah Spickernell
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GPs in the UK have been advised against prescribing antibiotics unless there's no alternative
GPs in the UK have been advised against prescribing antibiotics unless there's no alternative (Source: Getty)

We all know antibiotic resistance is on the rise and humans are set to suffer, but less understood is the huge role farm animals play in spreading the problem.

In the US, agriculture accounts for almost 80 per cent of all antibiotic use, and most of the drugs used on farm animals are also used to treat humans. The result is that humans can end up picking up resistant strains through eating or touching undercooked meat.

Read more: 80,000 could die from blood infection in the UK

A group of researchers from the University of California has warned this is endangering human health, and are calling on hospitals around the country to stop buying meat from animals which have been given antibiotics for growth promotion.

"This practise encourages the development of resistance," said Thomas Newman, one of the lead researchers of the study.

"Antibiotics are now more and more recognised as a precious resource that needs to be managed sustainably."

The White House revealed its plan last year to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but the researchers highlight this won't make much of a difference, as it sets no targets for the reduction of antibiotic use in agriculture.

Antibiotic resistance has a huge cost to the economy – figures from the Infectious Diseases Society of America estimates it's costing the US health care sector between $21bn (£13.6bn) and $34bn each year.

Meanwhile, a separate study published today in The Lancet shows given how fast antibiotic resistance is gaining strength in the US, it's likely 30 per cent of antibiotics will soon be ineffective in humans.

It warns a huge rise in fatalities will result, as half of all the bacteria which cause infections after the most common types of surgical procedure will be untreatable. It predicts there will be an additional 120,000 infections each year in US patients, along with 6,300 deaths.

Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem around the world – in August, the UK government's medical advisory board advised doctors against prescribing antibiotics unless it is entirely necessary, which means people with minor ailments are likely to have to go without treatment in the future.

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