Science - August 17, 2011

ESBL bacteria traced to chickens

ESBL enzymes which are resistant against antibiotics are spread from intensive animal farms via the food chain to hospitals. 'We now have concrete evidence', says veterinary researcher Dik Mevius.

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Researchers in Utrecht and Wageningen compared ESBL-producing bacteria found in hospital patients, supermarket chickens and poultry farms. They isolated six variants of ESBL genes and found that these genes in 35 percent of hospital patients are identical to the ESBL genes on chicken meat. Their analysis involved five hundred samples from hospital patients and a hundred supermarket chickens. 'The ESBL genes can be spread through the food chain', the researchers conclude in the scientific journal Clinical Microbiology and Infection. ESBL-producing gut bacteria are resistant against cephalosporins and other groups of antibiotics. Their increase has already been linked to the high usage of antibiotics in animal farming. All broiler chicken farms have tested positive for ESBL and 94 percent of the chicken being sold in shops are contaminated. 'But proper heating will kill all these', says Mevius.
Nevertheless, antibiotic use in animal farming should be cut down tremendously to reduce the spread of the resistant ESBL in the food chain, adds Mevius. He has doubts that the objectives set by the Dutch government to cut the use of antibiotics by half are sufficient to stop the spread of ESBL. 'The ESBL bacteria can be found everywhere, including water surfaces.' He calls for drastic hygiene regulations on farms so as to have ESBL-free broiler chicks.

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