Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Super bug

Posted By on Tue, Dec 29, 2009 at 5:21 PM

Go look at your antibacterial soap. No, really: Get up and look. What does it say? It kills 99.99 percent of germs? Well, guess what: That .01 percent that doesn't get killed off enjoys its competition-free environment and grows up to become a super bug like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) which is becoming more and more resistant to antibiotics -- and more and more deadly. But, it's not just MRSA, it's tuberculosis, it's Swine Flu (aka H1N1), it's pneumonia.

And, those civilization-altering antibiotics? They're in more than your local pharmacy -- they're in our food. Farmers include antibiotics in feed so they can produce healthy, fatted animals for the market. What they're also doing is making us all antibiotic-resistant, something super bugs love. But, don't take my word for it -- the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can fill you in on the finer details.

So, what can you do to protect yourself and your family? First off, throw your antibacterial everything away. (And, I mean throw it away now.) Regular, old fashioned soap -- like Ivory -- works fine. It knocks all of the bacteria back relatively evenly, keeping their competitive playing field relatively even too. Second, don't take antibiotics unless you have to -- and if you have to, take them all. Third, buy antibiotic-free foods.

The mystery started the day farmer Russ Kremer got between a jealous boar and a sow in heat.

The boar gored Kremer in the knee with a razor-sharp tusk. The burly pig farmer shrugged it off, figuring: "You pour the blood out of your boot and go on."

But Kremer's red-hot leg ballooned to double its size. A strep infection spread, threatening his life and baffling doctors. Two months of multiple antibiotics did virtually nothing.

The answer was flowing in the veins of the boar. The animal had been fed low doses of penicillin, spawning a strain of strep that was resistant to other antibiotics. That drug-resistant germ passed to Kremer.

Like Kremer, more and more Americans — many of them living far from barns and pastures — are at risk from the widespread practice of feeding livestock antibiotics. These animals grow faster, but they can also develop drug-resistant infections that are passed on to people. The issue is now gaining attention because of interest from a new White House administration and a flurry of new research tying antibiotic use in animals to drug resistance in people.

Researchers say the overuse of antibiotics in humans and animals has led to a plague of drug-resistant infections that killed more than 65,000 people in the U.S. last year — more than prostate and breast cancer combined. And in a nation that used about 35 million pounds of antibiotics last year, 70 percent of the drugs — 28 million pounds — went to pigs, chickens and cows. Worldwide, it's 50 percent.

"This is a living breathing problem, it's the big bad wolf and it's knocking at our door," said Dr. Vance Fowler, an infectious disease specialist at Duke University. "It's here. It's arrived."

Read the rest of this ABCNews.com article, by Margie Mason and Martha Mendoza, here.

In related news: Cleaning agents may help super bugs grow

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