A Growing Health Threat – Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria ESBL

By | July 29, 2017

The antibiotic-resistant bacteria Extended Spectrum Beta Lactamase (ESBL) is killing people. Extended-Spectrum Beta-Lactamases (ESBLs) are actually enzymes produced by certain types of bacteria. The enzymes act as an immunological defense that makes the bacteria resistant to the very antibiotics commonly used to treat them.

ESBL is joining the widely-spread MRSA and other resistant bacteria in the alphabet soup of deadly infections that are attacking and killing people all over the world. An October 2007 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, noted there were close to 100,000 cases of invasive methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections in the United States in 2005, which lead to more than 18,600 deaths. Compare that figure to the 17,000 deaths from HIV/AIDS in the same year.

Now MRSA has company! ESBLs were reported more than twenty-five years ago in the1980s. The early discoveries and reports were of case primarily found in hospital intensive care units. They were mostly associated with the Klebsiella species of bacteria and few people were affected at that time.

A significant change has recently occurred. Klebsiella pneumoniae and Klebsiella oxytoca have become more common. They have been joined by common Salmonella bacteria, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Proteus mirabilis in the ESBL producing bacteria lineup.

The British Health Protection Agency has warned that a completely new class of ESBLs has developed. This new class has been labeled as CTX-M enzymes and are being found among E.Coli bacteria. The ESBL E.Coli are resistant to penicillins and cephalosporins. They are increasingly showing up in urinary tract infections.

ESBL bacteria have been implicated in a number of cancer and liver disease patient deaths. In Denmark, doctors report a 50 percent increase in the number of infected patients. Danish officials are reporting a direct transmission link between pigs and humans. They say the bacteria are transmitted from pigs to humans.
This issue of antibiotic resistance is a much bigger problem than you think.

Antibiotic-resistant disease is man-made and threatens to expand and create massive disease problems. When MRSA became a hot news item, scientific and public interest focused on how to reduce the spread on infectious diseases.

Proper hand-washing methods and hygiene became popular topics of discussion and created a bevy of new anti-bacterial cleaning and washing products. In medical circles, discussion centered on how to reduce the medical over-prescribing of antibiotics. Even though these reactions to the problem of anti-biotic resistant bacteria may have helped, the spread of the resistant bacteria did not slow.

The usual response of simply reacting to an emerging problem once again failed and at last research is being directed in the direction of proactive strategies and searches for causes. Slowly, the realization that the increased use of antibiotics in agriculture may be behind the spread of the resistant strains is gaining impetus.

Both MRSA and ESBL are being traced back to animals raised for food production. Animals are often fed antibiotics at low doses for disease prevention and growth promotion. Studies have shown that animals receiving antibiotics in their feed gain 4 to 5 percent more body weight and gain that weight faster than animals that do not get antibiotics. Danish officials say they are unsure how farmers and veterinarians, who have not consumed infected meat, are becoming infected.

It is evident the meat industry practice of using antibiotics is a driving force behind the development of antibiotic resistance in an ever-widening variety of bacteria that cause human disease. If this link is even tenuous, why has nothing been done to reduce or eliminate the use of antibiotics in food animals?

The answer lays in the on-going struggle between science and politics. After several years, with solid scientific evidence of the harm done, the FDA finally banned the use of anti-microbial fluoroquinolones from agricultural use in August 1997. That ban came after protracted legislative lobbying manuevers and with the Bayer Corporation fighting and protesting in opposition. Understand that antibiotics for livestock use constitute about 70 percent of all antibiotic use! The antibiotic producers would lose that irreplaceable market if agricultural uses were banned.

It is not just the larger meat animals that are heavily fed and tainted with antibiotics. In 2006, the Journal of Infectious Disease printed a research study that bacteria from chickens raised commercially in conventional industry methods became resistant to Synercid. People who ate the chicken also became resistant to the drug. Why is this study extremely important?

Synercid is a very strong antibody used to treat antibiotic resistant bacteria. The strongest line of defense in our current medical cabinet was overcome by the resistant enzymes produced by the antibiotic fed chickens. The study also found that it was rare to find resistant bacteria among antibiotic-free chicken, while the majority of bacteria isolated from conventionally fed poultry were resistant.

Antibiotics filter into the food chain in other ways one might never suspect. Antibiotics are being transferred to your food via manure. The Journal of Environmental Quality reported in an 2007 issue that food crops will accumulate antibiotics from soil covered with manure containing antibiotics. The study grew potatoes, lettuce, and corn in soil mixed with hog manure and a common veterinary antibiotic.

The antibiotics were absorbed by all three crops, into leaves and tissue. The antibiotics also transferred to potato tubers, suggesting that root crops like carrots, beets, radishes and potatoes may be at risk of antibiotic accumulation. These findings have major implications for organic farmers, who often use animal manure as their main source of fertilizer. The organic labeling rules still permit the use of manure containing antibiotics.

How can you ensure the food you eat and feed to your family is pure and healthy? One certain way would be to grow it yourself but that solution is beyond most today. The next best is probably to make friends with a local farmer who uses non-toxic farming methods. Even in an urban area, there are community-supported agriculture programs available that give you access to healthy, locally grown foods even if you live in the heart of the city.

A safer alternative to commercially raised beef is to check out grass-fed beef. Grass-fed cattle are not routinely fed antibiotics. My family recently switched to grass-fed cattle, raised by local area Amish farmers. We have never had such delicious, flavorful beef before.

Allen Sapp, Ph.D.
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