Using the fear triggered by recent deaths catalyzed by superbugs as a launching pad for spending another billion dollars, the Obama administration is going to announce the spending of over $1 billion over the next five years to combat the problem of antibiotic resistance.
A government task force compiled a 60-page report written by officials from health, agriculture, and defense areas to insist that something massive must be done.
The goals of the White House plan, which would double the funds spent by the government to reach $1.2 billion, are rumored to include cutting the rates of the most virulent “superbugs,” buying new instruments to detect the bugs, finding new antibiotics, and monitoring antibiotic use more assiduously. The White House also wants to work in collaboration with the World Health Organization.
According to Reuters, “experts” said a grand plan is necessary because of “overuse of antibiotics from hospitals to U.S. farms.” has created a problem that has quickly grown out of control. In January, the Obama administration proposed doubling the government’s investment in antibiotic resistance to $1.2 billion.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that two million people contract resistant bacteria every year and 23,000 die. The CDC wants to reduce Clostridium difficile infections by 50 percent, carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) by 60 percent, and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bloodstream infections by at least half.
Doctors dealing with Medicare and Medicaid health plans will have to report how they prescribe antibiotics; the CDC will raise the number of immigrants it screens coming from countries plagued by multidrug resistant tuberculosis.
Yet the drive to raise panic in the public so that the government can step in is often based on myths, not facts. For example, Reuters quotes Sujatha Jahagirdar, program director at consumer group U.S. PIRG Stop Antibiotics Overuse, intoning that up to 70 percent of antibiotics sold in the United States are given to livestock and poultry.
But Dr. Richard Raymond, former undersecretary for food safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, countered that kind of talk in October 2013:
The numbers I use — and these are facts that I can support — are as follows: 40 percent of all antibiotics used in animals are called ionophores, which have never been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in human medicine, so immediately we remove 40 percent from the discussion because their use in animals has no impact on human health. Other drugs which account for 42 percent are “extremely poor” third or fourth choices for treatment of Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Of the remaining 18 percent, only 0.3 percent is comprised of veterinary antibiotics that come from classes of antibiotics that are also used in human medicine. These veterinary antiobiotics are used only for the treatment of animal disease, not for preventing disease or promoting growth in animals.
Raymond also addressed the common myth that antibiotics in livestock leave humans more resistant to antibiotics:
Because of oversight by the FDA, and using best available science, there is actually very little overlap between antibiotics frequently used in animal health and in human health; rather, use of antibiotics by humans is the main culprit for the resistant bacteria confronting patients and human health practitioners today. The CDC confirmed this in its recent report and noted that 50 percent of antibiotics prescribed for use in human health are inappropriate.
For those who assert that consumers should avoid meat that is not labeled organic and antibiotic-free, Keith Ayoob, an Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, responded, “The fact is . . . there is no scientific evidence to suggest a difference in nutritional content or bacterial safety between the two. For my patients, it’s not always a realistic possibility due to access and cost. I recommend to many of my patients to purchase nutritious food that they can afford. Overall, I tend to see more problems with consumers mishandling food after it is purchased.”