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Antibiotic Use in Chickens: Responsible for Hundreds of Human Deaths?

In the long back and forth between science and agriculture over the source of antibiotic resistance in humans — Due to antibiotic overuse on farms, or in human medicine? — one question has been stubbornly hard to answer. If antibiotic-resistant bacteria do arise on farms, do they leave the farm and circulate in the wider world? And if they do, how much damage do they do?

A multi-national team of researchers recently published their answers to both questions. Their answer: In Europe, 1,518 deaths and 67,236 days in the hospital, every year, which would not otherwise have occurred.

Their argument (in the open-access journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), builds on two earlier papers, both published in 2011. One estimated the additional deaths and hospital days incurred in Europe because of infections with drug-resistant staph and E. coli, without exploring the source of the resistance in those bacteria. The second analyzed the resistance genes in human E. coli infections, and compared them with resistance genes found in E. coli recovered from chicken meat being sold in stores (and found them similar to identical).

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