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F.ood & H.ealth : Agri. & Environ. Last Updated: Nov 12th, 2006 - 20:38:00

Eating, handling poultry cause human antibiotic resistance
By Ben Wasserman
Oct 11, 2006, 00:10

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Eating or even handling poultry in which antibiotics are used as growth promoters increase the risk of human antibiotic resistance, according to a new study.

Researchers at Marshfield Clinic who conducted the study found that a infectious bacterium from patients who ate poultry and from poultry injected with an antibiotic are resistant to a drug similar to the antibiotic while the bacterium from vegetarians and poultry without receiving antibiotics are not drug resistant.

In the study, Edward Belongia, M.D., Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation, Marshfield Wisconsin and colleagues determined whether poultry exposure to virginiamycin, an antibiotic closely related to quinupristin-dalfopristin, known also as Synercid that is licensed to treat patients with serious antibiotic-resistant infections, would cause antibiotic resistance in Enterococcus faecium, a gut bacterium that increasingly causes infections in hospitals.

Virginiamycim is used in poultry to promote growth.

In the study, Belongia and colleagues isolated E. faecium in stool samples from 105 newly hospitalized patients and 65 healthy vegetarians, 77 samples from conventional retail poultry and 23 antibiotic-free poultry meat samples.

As a result, Belongia and colleagues found E. faecium in samples from poultry receiving virginiamycin and in samples from patients who ate poultry became resistant to drug Synercid more often than E. faecium from vegetarians or from antibiotic-free poultry.

The human antibiotic-resistance developed after handling and or eating poultry due to the transfer of a specific gene responsible for the drug resistance from poultry gut bacteria to human gut bacteria, according to the researchers.

Antibiotic use is only one of the concerns. Arsenic is also used in poultry to suppress growth of GI parasites in poultry to promote growth of poultry. Early studies have discovered that the levels of arsenic in poultry can be several times higher than early estimated.

According to a press release by Marshfield Clinic, "resistance was rare among antibiotic-free poultry but a majority of bacterial isolates from conventional poultry samples were resistant"

The study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a health agency under United States Department of Health. The results were published in the November 1 issue of The Journal of Infectious Diseases.

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