By: Eric Mittenthal
This week the CDC released a major report on antibiotic resistance in the U.S., a careful look at the complex issue of antibiotic resistance. It’s always fascinating to read the headlines following a significant report such as this one as inevitably there’s a fair amount of variation in the takeaways by different reporters and this was no different. Consider these:
- Untreatable: Report by CDC details today’s drug-resistant health threats– CDC Press Release
- Drug-resistant bacteria pose potential catastrophe, CDC warns-Washington Post
- Report links antibiotics at farms to human deaths-San Francisco Chronicle
It’s not hard to pick out which one of those is not like the others. Headlines such as the one from the San Francisco Chronicle are ones we’d expect from advocacy groups who have a stated mission against the use of antibiotics in agriculture. The Natural Resources Defense Council for instance already has two blog posts on the topic. But it’s stories like the San Francisco Chronicle’s, a source that supposed to be balanced and trusted, that truly mislead and confuse people about the issue of antibiotic use and resistance.
Those headlines are even more egregious when you read the transcript of the CDC press conference which includes CDC director Dr. Thomas Friedan answering a question about the role of antibiotics in agriculture when it comes to resistance. Dr. Friedan acknowledged that any antibiotic use can lead to resistance, but also said, “right now the really most acute problem is in hospitals. And the most resistant organisms in hospitals are emerging in those settings, because of poor antimicrobial stewardship among humans.”
Who asked the question leading up to that response? Carolyn Lochhead of the San Francisco Chronicle.
We hope that the broader takeaways of the report which were covered by several media outlets are what most people focus on. In its report, CDC conveyed that you cannot attack a complex problem in a simple manner and that we must employ a multi-faceted solution. Our industry certainly plays a role in that solution, along with the medical community and others. Indeed, CDC noted that half of human antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary. CDC also said that among all of the bacterial resistance problems, gram-negative pathogens are particularly worrisome, because they are becoming resistant to nearly all drugs that would be considered for treatment and that the most serious gram-negative infections are healthcare-associated.
The report expressed concern about the use of antibiotics for growth promotion in animal production and we understand that concern. In our view, antibiotics should continue to be made available for animal health care under the direction of veterinarians, but we agree that antibiotics for production purposes should be phased out and that initiative is already underway.
CDC’s report offers good insights and would be augmented by a relative risk assessment be performed on this issue to help determine where public health resources and attention should be focused. We appreciate the careful and comprehensive examination of the issue that this report conveys and hope it will prompt everyone concerned about antibiotic resistance to examine the issue in an equally thorough manner.
Antibiotics are assets to human and veterinary medicine that should be used thoughtfully and appropriately. News stories on the topic should be approached thoughtfully as well, considering the complexities involved in the issue instead of boiling it down to stories of blame and misinformation.