It’s six o’clock. Do you know what’s in your chicken?

Don't let the pretty colors fool you. This is a dangerous bacteria

Don't let the pretty colors fool you. This is a dangerous bacteria

A study in April found that 47% of the 136 beef, chicken, pork and turkey samples contained Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (Staph). 96% of that bacteria was resistant to at least one antibiotic, and over half was resistant to at least three antibiotics. At first glance, that’s not too scary – provided you cook your food thoroughly, you will kill not only Staph bacteria, but other bacteria as well. Wash your utensils, counters and cutting boards thoroughly and you are safe from the bacteria for the time being. But the antibiotic resistant bacteria make public health officials nervous, as an increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs, are a drain on the time, money and resources of an already strained public health system.

Where are these antibiotic-resistant bacteria coming from?

Farmers feed animals antibiotics for two reasons. If you think that your kindergartner is a germ factory, imagine hundreds of animals stacked on top of each other. The confined living conditions of animals bred for slaughter make it a hotbed for disease. Although scientists can’t explain exactly why, administering antibiotics facilitates growth. It is more profitable for farmers to grow a stronger, meatier product in a shorter amount of time.

Although various health organizations have recommended the ban of antibiotics in farming, but the practice continues. Dr. Scott Hurd points out in a recent Los Angeles Times article that changing the use of antibiotics to improve the health of the public may backfire, "Even marginally ill animals are more likely to be contaminated with Salmonella and Campylobacter, so you have the potential to decrease public health."

Can I contract the illness from animals?

It appears to be possible that strains of bacteria can be contracted by people, however, those people seem to be farm workers, and people who have regular extended contact with animals over a period of time. A 2009 study published in the journal PLoS ONE found the same strain of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in 49% of pigs and 9 out of 20 farmworkers on two farms. An unhealthy person, for example someone who is in the hospital, who contracts MRSA faces a higher risk because of its resistance to most antibiotics. The treatment of antibiotic resistant drugs takes longer and is more costly.

Humans use four times as many antibiotics as what is used in farming, and public health officials are concerned that the overuse of antibiotics – from the overuse of antibacterial hand sanitizers, to the overprescribing of antibiotics by physicians – will lead to an outbreak of illness that can’t be cured with the antibiotics that we are used to. Antibiotics can’t treat viral infections including the flu, coughs, colds and sore throats.

Photo by CDC / Jeff Hageman, M.H.S. / Janice Haney Carr courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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