If you’ve seen a rash of antibiotic-resistant urinary tract infections (UTIs) lately, the source may turn out to be a strain of E.coli from antibiotic-fed chickens.
That’s according to a report last week in The Atlantic by food safety reporter Maryn McKenna, which quotes recent research finding “close genetic matches between resistant E. coli collected from human patients and resistant strains found on chicken or turkey sold in supermarkets or collected from birds being slaughtered.”
Researchers say poultry – especially chicken – could be the “bridge” that allows antibiotic resistant bacteria to move to humans, where they can live in the body and cause infection, The Atlantic reports.
Trouble is, no one has yet proven that such a transfer occurs, or traced a specific UTI to a particular drumstick or chicken nugget.
Instead, they’re focusing on the genetic similarities between the E. coli available on retail chicken meat sources and that causing women’s UTI infections. And the fact that the E. coli on the meat tends to have the highest levels of resistance, says Amee Manges, an associate professor of epidemiology at McGill University in Montreal and author of a recent study appearing in Clinical Infectious Diseases.
This is just the latest strike against antibiotic use in livestock feed, which food safety researchers and FDA officials have known about since the 1970s, and it’s unclear whether this latest report will have any more impact on the practice.
The FDA, which regulates agricultural use of antibiotics, has been resistant to restricting the practice beyond a plan to seek voluntary limits on use of the drugs in animal feed. However, a federal judge ordered the agency in March to follow through on its decades-old proposal to ban the use of penicillin and two forms of tetracycline in animal feed. In a related case in June, the court ordered the FDA to reconsider two citizen petitions asking the agency to withdraw approval of antibiotics used in food-producing animals.
Time will tell if that has any effect.