We’ve learned that pork farms that treat pigs with antibiotics can mysteriously spread killer superbugs throughout a nearby community. It turns out the same thing can happen with poultry farms, but in this case, they know the means of transmission?flies.

Public health researchers found evidence that houseflies collected near poultry operations may contribute to the dispersion of drug-resistant bacteria and thus increase the potential for human exposure to drug-resistant bacteria. The findings demonstrate another potential link between industrial food animal production and exposures to antibiotic resistant pathogens. Previous studies have linked antibiotic use in poultry production to antibiotic resistant bacteria in farm workers, consumer poultry products and the environment surrounding confined poultry operations, as well as releases from poultry transport.

Researcher jay Graham says, "Flies are well-known vectors of disease and have been implicated in the spread of various viral and bacterial infections affecting humans, including enteric fever, cholera, salmonellosis, campylobacteriosis and shigellosis. Our study found similarities in the antibiotic-resistant bacteria in both the flies and poultry litter we sampled. The evidence is another example of the risks associated with the inadequate treatment of animal wastes."

Researcher Ellen Silbergeld says, "Although we did not directly quantify the contribution of flies to human exposure, our results suggest that flies in intensive production areas could efficiently spread resistant organisms over large distances." In other words, you could come down with a killer superbug even those there’s no one raising chickens anywhere near you!

Futurist Robert Lawrence thinks that confined animal feeding operations, where thousands of animals are crowded together and are fed antibiotics for growth promotion, create the perfect environment for selection of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. He says, "Antimicrobials are among the most important developments of the twentieth century in managing infectious diseases in people. We can’t afford to squander them by using them as growth promoters in industrial food animal production. The increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a major threat to the health of the public, and policymakers should quickly phase out and ban the use of antimicrobials for non-therapeutic use in food animal production."

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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