A real threat

HIDDEN AGENDA - The Philippine Star

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, antibiotic resistance has been called one of the world’s most pressing public health problem and has become the office’s top concern.

Almost every type of bacteria has become stronger and less responsive to antibiotic treatment when it is really needed. Repeated and improper use of antibiotics is the primary cause of the increase in drug-resistant bacteria.

How do bacteria become resistant to antibiotics? CDC explains that antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in some way that reduces or eliminates the effectiveness of drugs, chemicals, or other agents designed to cure or prevent infections. The bacteria survive and continue to multiply causing more harm. Bacteria can do this through several mechanisms. Some bacteria develop the ability to neutralize the antibiotic before it can do harm, others can rapidly pump the antibiotic out, and still others can change the antibiotic attack site so it cannot affect the function of the bacteria.

We are constantly being advised and reminded to use antibiotics only when prescribed by a physician, and not to use it to fight viral infection like the common cold or flu because antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses.

But the problem may be much bigger than antibiotice resistance.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), antimicrobial resistance (AMR) threatens the effective prevention and treatment of an ever-increasing range of infections caused by bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi, and is an increasingly serious threat to global public health that requires action across all government sectors and society.

AMR is defined by the WHO as resistance of a microorganism to an antimicrobial drug that was originally effective for treatment of infections caused by it.

Resistant microorganisms (including bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites) are able to withstand attack by antimicrobial drugs, such as antibacterial drugs (e.g., antibiotics), antifungals, antivirals, and antimalarials, so that standard treatments become ineffective and infections persist, increasing the risk to others.

There are high proportions of antibiotic resistance (ABR) in bacteria that cause common infections (e.g. urinary tract infections, pneumonia, bloodstream infections) in all regions of the world, latest WHO reports reveal.

It warned that the use and misuse of antimicrobial drugs accelerates the emergence of drug-resistant strains.

WHO explained that while antibiotic resistance refers specifically to the resistance to antibiotics that occurs in common bacteria that cause infections, antimicrobial resistance is a broader term, encompassing resistance to drugs to treat infections caused by other microbes as well, such as parasites (e.g. malaria), viruses (e.g. HIV) and fungi (e.g. Candida).

WHO’s 2014 report on global surveillance of antimicrobial resistance reveals that antibiotic resistance is no longer a prediction for the future; it is happening right now, across the world, and is putting at risk the ability to treat common infections in the community and hospitals. Without urgent, coordinated action, the world is heading towards a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries, which have been treatable for decades, can once again kill.

Basically, everything we eat is suspect. Take the case of the tilapia, that fish many of us love to fry or grill and that has become a common sight in Filipino dining tables because it is much, much cheaper than galunggong or bangus.

News about the dangers of eating tilapia has become viral. A report being circulated on social media claims that eating farm-raised fish like tilapia, salmon, catfish, cod, and sea bass may worsen inflammation that can lead to heart disease, arthritis, asthma and a world of other serious health problems.

This is why. “Farmed salmon may have at least 10 times the amount of cancer causing organic pollutants compared to the wild variety. This can most likely be attributed to the feeds that are used on farm raised fish. Apparently, chicken feces is one of the main ingredients that go into farm fish feed. Not only that, the transfer of pig and duck waste to fish farms is also a very common practice. Farm-bred fish have been found to have high concentrations of antibiotics and pesticides. The crowded conditions of fish farms cause the fish to be more susceptible to disease. To keep them alive, farm owners give antibiotics to the fish to stave off disease. Farm-bred fish are also treated with pesticides to combat sea lice. The pesticides used to treat these fish are so deadly that they have been caused to kill wild salmon that are accidentally exposed to them. These pesticides are also eventually released in the ocean where they get into the bodies and systems of other marine life.”

And how about shrimps? The same report says that “shrimp actually holds the designation of being the dirtiest of all seafood. Imported farmed shrimp comes with a whole bevy of contaminants: antibiotics, residues from chemicals used to clean pens, filth like mouse hair, rat hair, and pieces of insects.”

In another report, pewhealth.org said that the same antibiotics used to treat sick people are also given to healthy animals — in much greater numbers — to make them grow faster and to compensate for overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. These practices are contributing to the emergence of drug-resistant superbugs that make infections more difficult and costly to treat. In 2011, more antibiotics were sold for use in meat and poultry production than ever before. About 73 percent of antibiotics sold in the United States are intended for use in food animal production.

The milk that we give to babies and children come from animals that have been given high doses of antibiotics. A recent report said that one particular brand of fastfood burgers contain 10 kinds of antibiotics.

Who wouldn’t want to eat organic eggs or organic chicken? But the prices can be prohibitive and not everybody has access to free-range chicken or the eggs that they produce. In supermarkets, organic eggs as well as brown eggs are sold at three times the price of ordinary chicken eggs. And where are we supposed to buy pork and beef where the animals were not given antibiotics?

It is actually a chicken-and-egg situation. Without the use of antibiotics, our poultry and livestock farmers and fishfarmers run the risk of higher animal farm deaths. Our NGOs talk about global warming, pollutants from mining, but the more real and urgent threat is right in front of us – in the food that we consume.

Our very own Department of Agriculture and Food and Agriculture Organization should come up with more stringent rules on antibiotic use in meat and farmed fish production. Our senators and congressmen can put to better use their time and our resources in coming up with laws that protect us from food producers who do not care if they are poisoning us. Everybody, rich or poor, is faced with this ticking timebomb.

For comments, e-mail at philstarhiddenagenda@yahoocom



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