Next week, two of the world's premiere organizations whose missions are to protect human health will focus on educating health workers, the agricultural sector, policymakers and everyday citizens on the dangers of antibiotic resistance. The World Health Organization is championing World Antibiotics Awareness Week and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is hosting its annual Get Smart About Antibiotics campaign. Both awareness efforts are greatly needed because antibiotics are losing their effectiveness due to excessive overuse by doctors, patients and industrial farming operations. This means these miracle drugs are on the brink of becoming an obsolete tool in protecting human and animal health.
Losing antibiotics to fight bacterial infections is nearly inconceivable. Gone would be the days of organ transplants and joint replacements, routine surgeries could become life threatening and a simple cut on the knee could kill. That's a dire prediction of the future of medicine, but it need not come true. If we rein in overuse in all sectors we can turn the tide of this looming public health crisis. Antibiotic resistance is everyone's problem so we all need to work on turning this issue around.
That's where you come in: Do your part. Start by visiting the websites of these two organizations. Test your knowledge by taking the quizzes they have created, print the infographics and hang them in your lunchroom or on your company bulletin boards, watch the new videos they have created and distribute their fact sheets to friends and colleagues. And join the conversation: follow the campaigns on Facebook (CDC and WHO) and Twitter (@CDCgov and @WHO) and tweet and post often. Use the hashtags #GetSmart, #AntibioticResistance and #antibiotics. Help spread the word because the clock ticks on life-saving antibiotics.
Then make it your mission to put into practice what you've learned. Cold and flu season is upon us and antibiotics won't help you one bit if you contract either. Get your flu shot. Don't demand an antibiotic unless you are absolutely sure you have a bacterial infection. If your doctor gives you an antibiotic prescription, ask if you really need it. We all have a job to do in stopping antibiotic overuse and misuse.
And still there is more you can do. I've written about this many times: Central to slowing antibiotic resistance is ending the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in food-animal production. So as you gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving, which very likely will involve turkey, consider a few things before purchasing a bird:
● About 237 million turkeys are produced in the U.S. each year and the vast majority are given antibiotics throughout their lifetimes to help them grow faster (called "growth promotion") and/or to keep animals from getting sick from their overcrowded, unsanitary living conditions (called "disease prevention"). Come January 2017, under FDA guidelines, antibiotics used for growth promotion will be banned; however, the drugs could still be used on a massive scale for disease prevention.
● The sheer volume of antibiotics used in food animals around the world is staggering. According to a new report, The State of the World's Antibiotics 2015, two-thirds of all of the antibiotics produced globally each year (65,000 tons of 100,000 tons) are used in animal agriculture.
● In the U.S., clear goals and timelines (as described in the White House's National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria) have been developed to help address antibiotic overuse and misuse in hospitals, by doctors and patients. Yet the president's plan did little to address antibiotic overuse in animal agriculture. This is disappointing because the most recent data shows that 32.6 million pounds of antibiotics were sold for use in food animals in 2013 compared to 7.7 million pounds of antibiotics sold in human medicine in 2011 (the most recent data available).
As I noted in my last post, it will be a bit more challenging for the turkey industry to reduce antibiotic use like a few of the big players are doing in the chicken sector. Consumer demand has driven that change, so we need to push for the same thing across the entire meat and poultry industries by voting with our wallets. In the days leading up to Thanksgiving consumers should try to purchase turkey, ham or other meat products from producers who use antibiotics responsibly. The labels you can trust say: "No antibiotics administered," "Raised without antibiotics," "Global Animal Partnership," "Animal Welfare Approved," or "Organic."
Antibiotic resistance is a serious, global threat to modern day medicine. Medical leaders warned us for decades that if we didn't stop our serious love affair with antibiotics that we would love these miracle drugs to their death. We're almost there, but it's not too late. We all need to move this issue to the top of our agendas, advocate for change and emulate the change we seek.