New Jersey senator and presidential hopeful Cory Booker put forth the Farm System Reform Act of 2019, in recognition of the environmental impact of industrial agriculture, which would put a stop to any new factory farms, as The Hill reported.
- Factory Farms Pollute the Environment and Poison Drinking Water ... ›
- Latest Agriculture Emissions Data Show Rise of Factory Farms ... ›
- If Factory Farm Conditions Are Unhealthy for Animals, They're Bad ... ›
By Tia Schwab
In 2014, the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, commissioned by the UK government and Wellcome Trust, estimated that 700,000 people around the world die each year due to drug-resistant infections. A follow-up report two years later showed no change in this estimate of casualties. Without action, that number could grow to 10 million per year by 2050. A leading cause of antibiotic resistance? The misuse and overuse of antibiotics on factory farms.
Antibiotic Resistance<p><strong>The problem</strong>: In 2017, nearly <a href="https://www.fda.gov/media/119332/download" target="_blank">11 million</a> kilograms of antibiotics—including 5.6 million kilograms of medically important antibiotics—were sold in the U.S. for factory-farmed animals. Factory farms use antibiotics to make livestock grow faster and control the spread of disease in cramped and unhealthy living conditions. While antibiotics do kill some bacteria in animals, resistant bacteria can, and often do, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/narms/faq.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fnarms%2Fanimals.html" target="_blank">survive and multiply</a>, contaminating meat and animal products during slaughter and processing.</p><p><strong>What it means for you</strong>: People can be exposed to antibiotic-resistant bacteria by handling or eating contaminated animal products, coming into contact with contaminated water or touching farm animals, which of course makes a farmworker's job especially hazardous. Even if you don't eat much meat or dairy, you're vulnerable: Resistant pathogens can enter water streams through animal manure and contaminate irrigated produce.</p><p><strong>Development</strong>s: The European Union has been much more aggressive than the U.S. in regulating antibiotic use on factory farms, <a href="https://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-05-1687_en.htm" target="_blank">banning</a> the use of all antibiotics for growth promotion in 2006. But the U.S. is making some progress, too. Under <a href="https://www.fda.gov/media/83488/download" target="_blank">new rules</a> issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which went into effect in January 2017, antibiotics that are important for human medicine can no longer be used for growth promotion or feed efficiency in cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys and other animals raised for food.</p><p>Additionally, <a href="https://tinyurl.com/yyavm2of" target="_blank">95 percent</a> of medically important antibiotics used in animal water and feed for therapeutic purposes were reclassified so they can no longer be purchased over the counter, and a veterinarian would have to sign off for their use in animals. As a result, domestic sales and distribution of medically important antimicrobials approved for use in factory farmed animals decreased by 43 percent from 2015 (the year of peak sales) through 2017, <a href="https://www.fda.gov/media/119332/download" target="_blank">reports</a> the FDA.</p><p>However, the agency still allows routine antibiotic use in factory farms for disease prevention in crowded and stressed animals, so these new rules aren't nearly enough, says Matthew Wellington, antibiotics program director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund.</p><p>"The FDA should implement ambitious reduction targets for antibiotic use in the meat industry, and ensure that these medicines are used to treat sick animals or control a verified disease outbreak, not for routine disease prevention," Wellington <a href="https://tinyurl.com/yyavm2of" target="_blank">said</a> in a statement, according to the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.</p><p>National Resources Defense Council Senior Attorney Avinash Kar <a href="https://tinyurl.com/yyavm2of" target="_blank">agrees</a>. "Far more antibiotics important to humans still go to cows and pigs—usually when they're not sick—than to people, putting the health of every single one of us in jeopardy."</p>
Water and Pollution<p><strong>The problem</strong>: Livestock in this country produce between 3 and 20 times more waste than people in the U.S. produce, according to a <a href="https://nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyNET.exe/P10089B1.TXT?ZyActionD=ZyDocument&Client=EPA&Index=2000+Thru+2005&Docs=&Query=&Time=&EndTime=&SearchMethod=1&TocRestrict=n&Toc=&TocEntry=&QField=&QFieldYear=&QFieldMonth=&QFieldDay=&IntQFieldOp=0&ExtQFieldOp=0&XmlQuery=&File=D%3A%5Czyfiles%5CIndex%20Data%5C00thru05%5CTxt%5C00000024%5CP10089B1.txt&User=ANONYMOUS&Password=anonymous&SortMethod=h%7C-&MaximumDocuments=1&FuzzyDegree=0&ImageQuality=r75g8/r75g8/x150y150g16/i425&Display=hpfr&DefSeekPage=x&SearchBack=ZyActionL&Back=ZyActionS&BackDesc=Results%20page&MaximumPages=1&ZyEntry=1&SeekPage=x&ZyPURL" target="_blank">2005 report</a> issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That's as much as 1.2-1.37 billion tons of manure a year. Some estimates are even higher.</p><p>Manure can contain "pathogens such as <em>E. coli</em>, growth hormones, antibiotics, chemicals used as additives to the manure or to clean equipment, animal blood, silage leachate from corn feed, or copper sulfate used in footbaths for cows," <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/docs/understanding_cafos_nalboh.pdf" target="_blank">according to</a> a 2010 report by the National Association of Local Boards of Health. Though sewage treatment plants are required for human waste, no such treatment facility exists for livestock waste.</p><p>Since this amount far exceeds what can be used as fertilizer, animal waste from factory farms typically enters massive, open-air waste lagoons, which <a href="https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/manureirrigation/" target="_blank">spread airborne pathogens</a> to people who live nearby. If animal waste is applied as fertilizer and exceeds the soil's capacity for absorption, or if there is a leak or break in the manure storage or containment unit, the animal waste runs off into oceans, lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater.</p><p>Extreme weather increases the possibility of such breaks. Hurricane Florence, for example, flooded <a href="https://www.npr.org/2018/09/22/650698240/hurricane-s-aftermath-floods-hog-lagoons-in-north-carolina" target="_blank">at least 50</a> hog lagoons when it struck the Carolinas last year, and satellite photos <a href="https://stonepierpress.org/goodfoodnews/mapping-factory-farms" target="_blank">captured</a> the damage.</p><p>Whether or not the manure is contained or spread as fertilizer, it can release many different types of harmful gases, including ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, as well as <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/docs/understanding_cafos_nalboh.pdf" target="_blank">particulate matter</a> comprised of fecal matter, feed materials, pollen, bacteria, fungi, skin cells and silicates, into the air.</p><p><strong>What it means for you</strong>: Pathogens can cause diarrhea and severe illness or even death for those with weakened immune systems, and nitrates in drinking water have been <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/docs/understanding_cafos_nalboh.pdf" target="_blank">connected</a> to <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40572-016-0085-0" target="_blank">neural tube defects and limb deficiencies in newborns</a> (among other things), as well as miscarriages and poor general health. For infants, it can mean blue baby syndrome and even death.</p><p>Gases like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide can <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/docs/understanding_cafos_nalboh.pdf" target="_blank">cause</a> dizziness, eye irritation, respiratory illness, nausea, sore throats, seizures, comas and death. Particulate matter in the air can <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/docs/understanding_cafos_nalboh.pdf" target="_blank">lead</a> to chronic bronchitis, chronic respiratory symptoms, declines in lung function and organic dust toxic syndrome. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/docs/understanding_cafos_nalboh.pdf" target="_blank">reported</a> that children raised in communities near factory farms are more likely to develop asthma or bronchitis, and that people who live near factory farms may experience mental health deterioration and increased sensitization to smells.</p><p><strong>Developments</strong>: It is difficult to hold factory farms accountable for polluting surrounding air and water, largely for political reasons. The GOP-controlled Congress and the Trump administration excused big livestock farms from reporting air emissions, for instance, following a <a href="https://www.motherjones.com/food/2018/12/factory-farms-no-longer-have-to-report-their-air-emissions-that-could-be-dangerous-for-their-neighbors/" target="_blank">decade-long push</a> for special treatment by the livestock industry.</p><p>The exemption indicates "further denial of the impact that these [emissions] are having, whether it's on climate or whether it's on public health," <a href="https://www.motherjones.com/food/2018/12/factory-farms-no-longer-have-to-report-their-air-emissions-that-could-be-dangerous-for-their-neighbors/" target="_blank">says</a> Carrie Apfel, an attorney for Earthjustice. In a 2017 <a href="https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2017-09/documents/_epaoig_20170919-17-p-0396.pdf" target="_blank">report</a> from the EPA's Office of the Inspector General, the agency admitted it has not found a good way to track emissions from factory farms and know whether the farms are complying with the Clean Air Act.</p><p>No federal agency even has reliable information on the number and locations of factory farms, which of course makes accountability even harder to establish.</p>
Foodborne Illness<p><strong></strong><strong>The problem</strong>: The U.S. has "shockingly high levels of foodborne illness," <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/animals-farmed/2018/feb/21/dirty-meat-shocking-hygiene-failings-discovered-in-us-pig-and-chicken-plants" target="_blank">according</a> to an investigation jointly conducted by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and The Guardian, and unsanitary conditions at factory farms are a leading contributor.</p><p>Studying 47 meat plants across the U.S., investigators found that hygiene incidents occur at rates experts described as "deeply worrying." One dataset covered 13 large red meat and poultry plants between 2015 and 2017 and found an average of more than 150 violations a week, and 15,000 violations over the entire period. Violations included unsanitary factory conditions and meat contaminated with blood, septicemic disease and feces.</p><p>"The rates at which outbreaks of infectious food poisoning occur in the U.S. are significantly higher than in the UK, or the EU," Erik Millstone, a food safety expert at Sussex University told The Guardian.</p><p>Poor sanitary practices allow bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella, which live in the intestinal tracts of infected livestock, to contaminate meat or animal products during slaughter or processing. Contamination occurs at higher rates on factory farms because crowded and unclean living conditions increase the likelihood of transmission between animals.</p><p>It also stresses out animals, which suppresses their immune response, making them more susceptible to disease. The grain-based diets used to fatten cattle can also quickly increase the risk of <em>E. coli</em> infection. In poultry, the practice of processing dead hens into "<a href="https://www.huffpost.com/entry/e-coli-salmonella-and-oth_b_415240?guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAANkjLwmsnRglc1VCMlqcRi5-MysjhEUaB6ddNuzRBu4D7mS_Kc5u2RYcFwbWFy3rsSXK8Rh26fF32cF4wb3DP6yf0ECvgxMz6hOVz-kY2KxgbY_3lEMErrMEjYYFOkCdXibwPndBfr_fztIA1Gw6EbO5sRlbajNmkUFhG382YQg&guccounter=2" target="_blank">spent hen meal</a>" to be fed to live hens has increased the spread of <em>Salmonella</em>.</p><p><strong>What it means for yo</strong>u: According to the CDC, roughly <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/foodborneburden/estimates-overview.html" target="_blank">48 million</a> people in the U.S. suffer from foodborne illnesses annually, with 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths each year. <em>Salmonella</em> accounts for approximately 11 percent of infections, and kills more people every year than any other bacterial foodborne illness.</p><p><strong>Developments</strong>: In January 2011, President Obama <a href="https://www.fda.gov/food/food-safety-modernization-act-fsma/international-capacity-building-under-fsma" target="_blank">signed</a> the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the <a href="https://tinyurl.com/kl4oqm" target="_blank">first</a> major piece of federal legislation addressing food safety since 1938. FSMA grants the FDA new authority to regulate the way food is grown, harvested and processed, and new powers such as mandatory recall authority.</p><p>The FSMA "basically codified this principle that everybody responsible for producing food should be doing what the best science says is appropriate to prevent hazards and reduce the risk of illness," <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/20/health/food-safety-illness-rise-cdc/index.html" target="_blank">according</a> to Mike Taylor, co-chairman of Stop Foodborne Illness and a former deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at the FDA. "So we're moving in the right direction."</p><p>However, almost a decade later, the FSMA is still being phased in, due to a shortage of trained food-inspectors and a lack of funding. "Congress has gotten about halfway to what it said was needed to successfully implement" the Act, Taylor said.</p>
The Flu<p><strong></strong><strong>The problem</strong>: Both the number and density of animals on factory farms increase the risk of new virulent pathogens, <a href="https://www.ciwf.org.uk/media/22780/swine_flu_report_05_05_2009.pdf" target="_blank">according</a> to the U.S. Council for Agriculture, Science and Technology. In addition, transporting animals over long distances to processing facilities brings different influenza strains into contact with each other so they combine and spread quickly.</p><p>Pigs — susceptible to both avian and human flu viruses — can serve as ground zero for all sorts of new strains. Because of intensive pig farming practices, "the North American swine flu virus has jumped onto an evolutionary fast track, churning out variants every year," <a href="https://tinyurl.com/yybhkxaq" target="_blank">according</a> to a report published in the journal Science.</p><p><strong>What it means for you</strong>: These viruses can become pandemics. In fact, viral geneticists <a href="https://www.wired.com/2009/05/swineflufarm/" target="_blank">link</a> the genetic lineage of H1N1, a kind of swine flu, to a strain that emerged in 1998 in U.S. factory pig farms. The CDC has <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/2009-h1n1-pandemic.html" target="_blank">estimated</a> that between 151,700 and 575,400 people worldwide died from the 2009 H1N1 virus infection during the first year the virus circulated.</p>
Breast, Prostate and Colon Cancer<p><strong></strong><strong>The problem</strong>: Factory farms in the U.S. use hormones to stimulate growth in an estimated <a href="https://www.foodandwatereurope.org/factsheet/food-safety-consequences-of-factory-farms/" target="_blank">two-thirds</a> of beef cattle. On dairy farms, around <a href="https://www.foodandwatereurope.org/factsheet/food-safety-consequences-of-factory-farms/" target="_blank">54 percent</a> of cows are injected with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), a growth hormone that increases milk production.</p><p><strong>What it means for you</strong>: The health effects of consuming animal products treated with these growth hormones is an ongoing international debate. Some <a href="https://www.foodandwatereurope.org/factsheet/food-safety-consequences-of-factory-farms/" target="_blank">studies</a> have linked growth hormone residues in meat to reproductive issues and breast, prostate and colon cancer, and IGF-1, an insulin-like growth hormone, has been linked to colon and breast cancer. However, the <a href="https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/product-safety-information/report-food-and-drug-administrations-review-safety-recombinant-bovine-somatotropin" target="_blank">FDA</a>, the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK15180/" target="_blank">National Institutes of Health</a> and the <a href="https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/127845/9789241209885_eng.pdf;jsessionid=BB8751F0CE011D6249BDE6C98211465C?sequence=1" target="_blank">World Health Organization</a> have independently found that dairy products and meat from cows treated with rBGH are safe for human consumption.</p><p>Because risk assessments vary, the EU, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Israel and Argentina have banned the use of rBGH as a precautionary measure. The EU has also <a href="https://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/chemical_safety/meat_hormones_en" target="_blank">banned</a> the use of six hormones in cattle and imported beef.</p><p><strong>Developments</strong>: U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines allow beef products to be <a href="https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/food-labeling/meat-and-poultry-labeling-terms/meat-and-poultry-labeling-terms#15" target="_blank">labeled</a> with "no hormones administered" and dairy products to be <a href="https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-1994-02-10/html/94-3214.htm" target="_blank">labeled</a> "from cows not treated with rBST/rBGH" if the producer provides sufficient documentation that this is true. Consumers can use this information to make their own decisions about the risks associated with hormone-treated animal products.</p>
What You Can Do<p>You can vote for local initiatives that establish health and welfare regulations for factory farms, but only a tiny number of states, including <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/California_Proposition_12,_Farm_Animal_Confinement_Initiative_(2018)" target="_blank">California</a> and <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Massachusetts_Minimum_Size_Requirements_for_Farm_Animal_Containment,_Question_3_(2016)" target="_blank">Massachusetts</a>, are even putting relevant propositions on the ballot.</p><p>Another option is to support any of the nonprofits that are, in lieu of effective government action, taking these factory farms to task. The <a href="https://www.ewg.org/" target="_blank">Environmental Working Group</a>, <a href="https://earthjustice.org/" target="_blank">Earthjustice</a> and the <a href="https://aldf.org/focus-area/farmed-animals/" target="_blank">Animal Legal Defense Fund</a> are among those working hard to check the worst practices of these factory farms. Another good organization is the <a href="https://sraproject.org/" target="_blank">Socially Responsible Agricultural Project</a>, which works with local residents to fight the development of factory farms in their own backyards.</p><p>Buying humanely raised animal products from farms and farmers you trust is another way to push back against factory farming. Sadly, products from these smaller farms make up only a fraction of the total. In the U.S., roughly <a href="https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/us-factory-farming-estimates" target="_blank">99 percent</a> of chickens, turkeys, eggs and pork, and <a href="https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/us-factory-farming-estimates" target="_blank">70 percent</a> of cows, are raised on factory farms.</p><p>You can support lab-grown "clean" burgers, chicken and pork by buying it once it becomes widely available. Made from animal cells, the process completely spares the animal and eliminates the factory farm. "The resulting product is 100 percent real meat, but without the antibiotics, <em>E. coli</em>, <em>Salmonella</em>, or waste contamination," <a href="https://www.gfi.org/images/uploads/2018/06/GFI1pager.pdf" target="_blank">writes</a> the Good Food Institute.</p><p>In the meantime, you can register your objection to factory farming by doing your bit to reduce demand for their products. In short, eat less meat and dairy, and more plant-based proteins.</p><p>More than $13 billion has been invested in plant-based meat, egg and dairy companies in 2017 and 2018 alone, <a href="https://www.gfi.org/state-of-the-industry" target="_blank">according</a> to the Good Food Institute, and Beyond Meat's initial public offering debut in May marked the most successful one since the year 2000.</p><p>Lest you think that what you do on your own can't possibly make a difference, consider one of the major drivers behind all this new investment: consumers are demanding change.</p><p>"Shifting consumer values have created a favorable market for alternatives to animal-based foods, and we have already seen fast-paced growth in this space across retail and foodservice markets," says Bruce Friedrich, executive director of the Good Food Institute.</p>
- Phages: Bacterial Eaters From Georgia to Fight Antibiotic Resistance ›
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Tim Ruben Weimer
Tanja Diederen lives near Maastricht in the Netherlands. She has been suffering from Hidradenitis suppurativa for 30 years. Its a chronic skin disease in which the hair roots are inflamed under pain — often around the armpits and on the chest.
Journey Into the Unknown<p>"It tastes a bit like mushrooms," Tanja Diederen remarked as she took her morning phage dose. "When I went to Georgia, I was at first very nervous and excited, but above all disappointed about the treatment here in Holland."</p><p>After antibiotics stopped working for her, her doctor suggested that she take biopharmaceuticals, i.e. genetically engineered drugs. He had never heard of bacteriophages.</p><p>Instead, Diederen decided to look for treatment options with bacteriophages on her own, which she had heard about in a television program. </p>
The Doctor Never Heard of Phages<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA5OTMyOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMDkyNzg5Mn0.qRW81FnFddQeCHblPbinr-ITYYThWMzcTkmyJHkLYXU/img.jpg?width=980" id="50ae5" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9ab12b7d5efd0f615a2c891f5341dd33" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A phage model — phages are viruses, that multiply in bacteria and then destroy them.<p>She came across the <a href="http://eliava-institute.org/research/" target="_blank">Georgi-Eliava Institute</a> in Georgia, which has been researching bacteriophages since 1923 — just a few years after their discovery. Georgia has since developed into the global center of phage therapy.</p><p>During the Cold War, antibiotics were difficult to get there or anywhere in the Soviet Union. Treatment with phages was the best way to cure infectious diseases. Today, the Eliava Institute has one of the largest therapeutic collections of bacteriophages in the world.</p><p>Tanja Diederen stayed in treatment for two weeks, after which she traveled back to the Netherlands with a large suitcase full of phage tins. Since she began taking two different phages a day and applying a cream, she feels better.</p><p>She has more energy again and the small inflammations on her chest and armpits have decreased. The large inflammations come and go, but not as severe as before.</p>
"It Doesn't Feel Illegal to Me"<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA5OTMzMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5OTQ3MjkyN30.LIFoPvFlOUrWiygZYQIFHFuU0XnbYZvQVuYOzLh72JM/img.jpg?width=980" id="5e607" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8800327639cc2ab041ea52667ce91e73" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Communicating with the Georgian doctors was difficult for Tanja Diederen. She needed a translator.<p>Every three months Diederen travels to Belgium — 15 kilometers away — to pick up a new ration of bacteriophages sent from Georgia for 500 euros. Her health insurance doesn't pay for this. Belgium is the only Western European country where phages are allowed. In the Netherlands, as in all other countries, they can only be used in individual cases to save lives or relieve severe pain. </p><p>Her physician is solely responsible for the application.</p><p>"It doesn't feel illegal to me," said Diederen. "I am one hundred percent sure that this medicine will help many people."</p><p>Like antibiotics, bacteriophages can also lead to bacterial resistance. Their big advantage, however, is that they are always one step ahead of the bacteria and can overcome the resistance. In addition, they are always directed against a specific type of bacteria and thus leave useful bacteria undamaged, like in the intestine, for example.</p><p>Before phage treatment, it is always necessary to determine which bacteria actually trigger the disease. The phages are then produced individually for each patient — often in Georgia.</p>
Bacteriophages Permitted in Belgium<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA5OTMzNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNTI2NDYzOX0.9BVO3fcj0e1erjgqXALiH58zBE2LWyCbtw2RvBpIrvA/img.jpg?width=980" id="182fb" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1b9e9c2603898ec71e4d05666f26454f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Professor Jean-Paul Pirnay from the Queen-Astrid Military Hospital in Brussels works with bacteriophages.<p>Such an individual medication does not meet the applicable regulations for medicinal products in any Western European country. It would take too much effort to have each individual phage formulation approved by the authorities.</p><p>Not so in Belgium. Since last year, this process can be legally circumvented by the Scientific Health Institute, in cooperation with doctors, patients, manufacturers, pharmacists and the Belgian Federal Office for Medicinal Products, issuing a certificate for the required phage ingredients. Pharmacists will then be able to use them for the manufacture of bacteriophages, subject to certain guidelines.</p><p>"We have used the existing legal framework to insert the bacteriophages," said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Laboratory-for-Molecular-and-Cellular-Technology-Jean-Paul-Pirnay" target="_blank">Dr Jean-Paul Pirnay,</a> who works at the Queen Astrid Military Hospital in Brussels on bacteriophages.</p><p>Around 30 patients have already been treated there. Currently, the military hospital is the only place in Belgium where bacteriophages are produced.</p>
Useful Supplement to Antibiotics<p>"We need pharmaceutical companies to make the phage," says Pirnay. "A hospital can't produce all phages for a growing number of patients."</p><p>But industrial production of phages would require a clearer legal framework, and research is not yet ready.</p><p>"I believe that phages will not replace antibiotics," he said. "Both will be used together to make antibiotics more effective."</p><p>Tanja Diederen wants to continue her treatment in Brussels in the future. Communication with the Georgian doctors was difficult for her, she always needed a translator.</p><p>"I really hope that phages will soon be allowed in Europe," she said. "Going to Georgia is quite difficult and expensive."</p><p>Germany and the Netherlands are currently conducting pilot studies to see whether an individual prescription of bacteriophages would be possible. France has already imported Belgian phages and agreed to their use.</p>
- Wastewater Treatment Plants Could Contribute to a 'Post-Antibiotic ... ›
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By Julia Ries
- Antibiotic resistance has doubled in the last 20 years.
- Additionally a new study found one patient developed resistance to a last resort antibiotic in a matter of weeks.
- Health experts say antibiotic prescriptions should only be given when absolutely necessary in order to avoid growing resistance.
Over the past decade, antibiotic resistance has emerged as one of the greatest public health threats.
Resistance Has Soared<p>Antibiotics can be extremely helpful and even lifesaving when used appropriately. But many health experts are concerned that if we continue to overuse and misuse them, they'll lose their abilities to treat infections.</p><p>"There is concern that continued antibiotic resistance could lead us to a 'post-antibiotic world' in which infections are no longer treatable. This problem has been likened to a global public health threat on the level of that presented by climate change," <a href="https://stanfordhealthcare.org/doctors/d/stanley-deresinski.html" target="_blank">Dr. Stanley Deresinski</a>, an infectious disease doctor with Stanford Health Care, told Healthline.</p><p>To measure just how resistant the population has become to antibiotics and identify which treatments can be used in the future, researchers conducted surveys on how effectively people responded to various antibiotics in 1998, 2008 and most recently, in 2018.</p><p>For the 2018 survey, the researchers studied 1,232 patients from 18 countries in Europe who had contracted a Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection, a harmful bacterium associated with gastric ulcer, lymphoma and gastric cancer.</p><p>The researchers determined that resistance to the antimicrobial clarithromycin — which is commonly used to treat <em>H. pylori</em> — had grown from 9.9 percent in 1998 to 21.6 percent in 2018.</p><p>In addition, resistance to other powerful antibiotics has grown significantly as well. The resistance rate for levofloxacin has risen to 17 percent, and the rate for metronidazole to 42 percent.</p><p>Lastly, the researchers noticed that resistance to amoxicillin, tetracycline and rifampicin compounds increased as well.</p><p>According to the study, the rates of resistance were highest in Southern Italy (37 percent), Croatia (35 percent) and Greece (30 percent).</p><p>Meanwhile, resistance rates in the United States have also soared, according to health experts.</p><p>"To see some countries with over 1/3 of all H. pylori infections resistant to clarithromycin (one of a combination of antibiotics used to treat H. pylori) is shocking. Things have been moving this way in the U.S., with estimates of clarithromycin resistance bordering 19 percent," says <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/find-care/find-a-doctor/gastroenterology/dr-arun-swaminath-md-11361885" target="_blank">Dr. Arun Swaminath</a>, the director of the inflammatory bowel disease program at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.</p><p>If the United States doesn't become more prudent with antibiotic use, what's happening in southern Italy and Croatia could soon be our own future, Swaminath said.</p>
Here’s Why It Happens<p>The more we use antibiotics, the higher the prevalence of antimicrobial resistance is, explains <a href="https://www.yalemedicine.org/doctors/richard_martinello/" target="_blank">Dr. Richard Martinello</a>, a Yale Medicine infectious diseases expert.</p><p>"The use of antibiotics forces the evolution of resistant bacteria, and growth of these resistant bacteria are favored when antibiotics are present," says Martinello.</p><p>Essentially, that bacteria mutates into a version that's developed resistance, allowing them to survive and multiply in the presence of antibiotics.</p><p>And, as microbes become more resistance to antibiotics, doctors encounter a higher number of patients with infections that cannot be treated with antibiotics, Martinello said, adding that this can frequently lead to death or other potentially permanent health complications.</p>
What Can Be Done<p>According to the health experts, we need to slow down the use of antibiotics and use them only when necessary.</p><p>"Physicians prescribing antibiotics need to exercise discretion and only prescribe antibiotics when they may help patients. It has been estimated that in the upwards of 50 percent of prescriptions for antibiotics are for health conditions, such as colds, which will not be helped by antibiotics," Martinello said.</p><p>Additionally, patients also need to recognize the limitations of antibiotics.</p><p>"There is a patient expectation that antibiotics are cure-alls for colds, sore throats, URIs, diarrhea to name a few," says <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/find-care/find-a-doctor/internal-medicine/dr-theodore-john-strange-md-11364314" target="_blank">Dr. Theodore Strange</a>, the associate chair of medicine at Staten Island University Hospital.</p><p>Patients must only use them as prescribed and should return any unused antibiotics to their pharmacy.</p><p>"Antibiotics are necessary only when indicated for specific bacterial diseases and should be of the appropriate type, in the appropriate dose, [for] the appropriate amount of time," Strange said. "They are not 'cure-alls' for all."</p>
The Bottom Line<p>Antibiotic resistance has emerged as one of the greatest threats to public health in recent years. Now, new research shows just how big of a threat it is.</p><p>A new study found that resistance to commonly used antibiotics has nearly doubled in 20 years. Another found that resistance to antibiotics is developing faster than ever, with one patient becoming resistant in just 22 days.</p><p>Health experts agree that in order to mitigate the issue, people need to use antibiotics only when necessary.</p>
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By Rob Minto
The global superbug crisis is a complicated, long-term problem. The video below explains how it starts, spreads and its impact. But there are many other—sometimes surprising—aspects to this crisis.
There is one key way in which superbugs start. Whether it is in animals or humans, the initial point is where antibiotics kill off drug-susceptible bacteria, leaving drug-resistant bacteria to multiply.