News update:Oct 5, 2006

Antibiotic use in poultry leads to resistance in humans

US researchers studying Virginiamycin use in poultry have determined that the use of antibiotics as growth promotors increases the risk of human antibiotic resistance.

Virginiamycin is a streptogramin antibiotic that has long been used as a growth promoter in US livestock, but is banned in Europe.

Dr Edward Belongia and colleagues, of the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation, examined poultry exposure to the drug as a risk factor for antibiotic resistance to Enterococcus faecium, a gut bacterium that's increasingly becoming the cause of hospital infections.

The researchers' study suggests that the use of virginiamycin in poultry leads to humans carrying more E. faecium that is resistant to streptogramin, the antibiotic used to treat it.

The scientists isolated E. faecium in stool samples from 105 newly hospitalised patients and 65 healthy vegetarians, as well as in 77 samples of conventional retail poultry and 23 antibiotic-free poultry meat samples.

The report says that there are few options for treating E. facium infections that are resistant to streptogramin, with quinupristin-dalfopristin being one of few drugs that remain effective.

"With few new antimicrobials under development, a high priority should be placed on assessing the human health impact of continued streptogramin use in food animals and on developing evidence-based policies to prevent the emergence of streptogramin-resistant infections in hospitals,” the report says.

The full study is available online in the November 1 issue of The Journal of Infectious Diseases.

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