The use of antibiotics in food-producing animals has led to a greater risk of life-threatening infections in young children and dramatically reduced medicine’s ability to treat those infections according to a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Dr. Jerome A. Paulson, FAAP, the lead author and the AAP’s immediate past chair of the executive committee of the Council on Environmental Health, wrote in the introduction: “Antimicrobial resistance is one of the most serious threats to public health globally, and threatens our ability to treat infectious diseases.”
More than 2 million people in the United States become ill with antimicrobial-resistant infections each year, resulting in more than 23,000 deaths, Paulson told Healthline.
In 2013, there were more than 19,000 infections involving young children, according to the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, a system operated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that covers 15 percent of the U.S. population. Those infections caused 4,200 hospitalizations and 80 deaths.
The highest incidence rate in this group was for children younger than 5, Paulson said.
“Life-threatening infections are extremely unusual in otherwise healthy children,” he said. “Most life-threatening infections occur in children with other medical problems. That said, healthy children can get pneumonia, from the pneumococcal bacteria, which may be life-threatening. And they can get infections with E. coli 0157, which they may get from contaminated meat, and that can be life-threatening.”
Consumer Reports notes that approximately 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used by the meat and poultry industry to make animals grow faster or to prevent disease in crowded and unsanitary conditions.
“These non-therapeutic uses contribute to resistance and create new health dangers for people, and often render antibiotics ineffective when doctors need them to treat infections in humans,” said Paulson, who is also a professor emeritus of pediatrics and of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University’s School of Medicine.
"Children can be exposed to multiple-drug resistant bacteria, which are extremely difficult to treat if they cause an infection, through contact with animals given antibiotics and through consuming the meat of those animals," Paulson said.
"Like humans, farm animals should receive appropriate antibiotics for bacterial infections,” he added. “However, the indiscriminate use of antibiotics without a prescription or the input of a veterinarian puts the health of children at risk.”
Paulson suggests that parents purchase meat and poultry that has not been raised using antimicrobial agents.
The report authors note that many antimicrobial agents used in food animals are the same as or similar to those used in human medicine.
“Unlike in human medicine,” they wrote, “antibiotic agents in food animals may often be used without a prescription or any veterinary oversight.”
“This issue is a danger to adults and children,” Paulson said. “The American Academy of Pediatrics, of course, only has the expertise to weigh in on the situation as it relates to children. The AAP has published this technical report to bring attention to the problem.”
Paulson also noted that physicians should be judicious in prescribing antibiotics.
“Antibiotics should never be prescribed for colds, for upper-respiratory tract infections unless they are known to be bacterial in nature, or for other ill-defined purposes. Veterinarians should control the use of antimicrobial agents in animals, and such agents should not be added to feed or water to promote growth.”
To avoid meats and poultry laced with antibiotics, parents can look for certain labels on the poultry or meats they buy. The website, www.eatingwell.com, offers several lables consumers can check out.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) verifies that foods containing the certified USDA Organic label come from animals that have never been given antibiotics.
Food Alliance also verifies that their animals are not given sub-therapeutic antibiotics. Look for food products that have the FA label.
American Grassfed label also guarantees that the animal was never given antibiotics.
The report was published in the November 16, 2015 journal Pediatrics.
Sources: Patrick Keeffe, http://www.healthline.com/health-news/antibiotics-used-in-livestock-pose-risk-to-childrens-health-111615#1
Gretel H. Schueller,