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China's Overuse of Antibiotics in Livestock May Threaten Human Health
Date:2/11/2013

By Maureen Salamon
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Feb. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Antibiotics used to fatten farm animals pose a steep threat to global health, spawning drug-resistance genes that end up in fertilizer, compost and groundwater and squash antibiotics' ability to fend off human diseases, suggests a new study from China.

Collaborating to examine antibiotic-resistance genes at three large pig farms in China -- which uses four times more antibiotics for veterinary purposes than the United States -- Chinese and American scientists detected 149 unique resistance genes. The top 63 antibiotic-resistance genes were found in concentrations between 192 times and 28,000 times higher than "control" samples of manure or soil that were antibiotic-free.

"To me a big point is that the study was done in China, but this is not an unusual practice for many countries. The example is China, but the implications are beyond China," said study author James Tiedje, director of the Center for Microbial Ecology at Michigan State University, in East Lansing. "Because this practice of using therapeutic antibiotics in feed is widely used globally, we would expect a similar phenomenon [elsewhere]."

The study is published in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Antibiotics and similar drugs have saved countless lives in the past 70 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the drugs' punch has been diminished in recent years by adaptive bacteria that have become resistant to their effects. Several potentially deadly conditions -- including tuberculosis, Staphylococcus aureus infection, pneumonia and malaria -- have developed virulent antibiotic-resistant strains that defy cures because of a lack of new antibiotics to counteract the problem.

"The huge, bulk use of antibiotics in [animals] creates a sea of antibiotic-resistant bacteria," said D
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