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A link in the food chain

April 24, 2006|Shari Roan | Times Staff Writer

AVOIDING the use of antibiotics in food animals appears to reduce drug resistance in humans, according to a study published online last week in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

The study involved the use of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones in Australian poultry. Australia restricts use of the antibiotics in animal husbandry because the practice is thought to contribute to drug resistance in people who contract bacterial infections from eating contaminated food. One such infection, Campylobacter, is a leading cause of food-borne illness in industrialized countries.

The study, by researchers at the Australian National University, examined 585 Australians who had Campylobacter infections. Only 2% of these were resistant to the drug ciprofloxacin, a type of fluoroquinolone. Countries that allow fluoroquinolone use in poultry have resistance rates in humans as high as 29%.

After years of debate, the Food and Drug Administration last year banned use of one fluoroquinolone drug in poultry to try to reduce drug resistance in the United States.

"This is a very important study," says Dr. Edward Septimus, an infectious diseases specialist in Billings, Mont. "We've been saying that we have to reduce antibiotic overuse in humans. We also have to remove it from animals."

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