Analysis: Harmful Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs Lurking on 75% of U.S. Meat

The wise (in my view) decision to avoid meat isn’t only a moral position due to how animals are treated in factory farms — it is also a health position. Processed meat has been declared as carcinogenic by the WHO, U.S. chicken has been found to be able to cross-contaminate kitchens with its inadequate cleanliness standards, and now even plant protein has been declared by scientific research as healthier than meat protein.

A new analysis offers alarming findings as many Americans get ready to fire up their grills for the 4th of July—nearly 80 percent of supermarket meat was found to have antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs.

That’s according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which sifted through over 47,000 tests of bacteria on supermarket meat, including beef, chicken, pork, and turkey, undertaken by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System in 2015, the most recent year for which the data is available.

“Consumers need to know about potential contamination of the meat they eat so they can be vigilant about food safety, especially when cooking for children, pregnant women, older adults or the immune-compromised,” said report author Dawn Undurraga, a nutritionist with the Washington, D.C.-based research and advocacy organization. The high levels, the report notes, call into question the effectiveness of the FDA’s 2013 guidance calling for reduction in the use of  use of antibiotics to make livestock grow more quickly.

Undurraga noted that “the government still allows most producers to give highly important antibiotics to healthy animals to compensate for stressful, crowded, and unsanitary conditions,” which are rampant on factory farms. “These non-treatment uses are counter to WHO recommendations, and create a breeding ground for antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”

EWG also says the FDA continues to downplay the data, even as warnings about the threat of antibiotic resistance increase at thenational and global level.

According to the WHO, such resistance remains “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today,” and warns the crisis “is rising to dangerously high levels in all parts of the world.”

EWG’s new analysis shows that three in four bacteria on the grocery store meat samples were resistant to at least one of the 14 antibiotics tested. The group stressed that being resistant to just one is cause for concern, as genes that confer the trait of antibiotic resistance can transfer from one bacterium to another.

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Alongside the analysis, EWG also sent a letter (pdf) to the FDA, which warned that “there are alarming and growing numbers of superbugs in supermarket meat,” and called on the agency to take urgent action to live up to its mission.

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In the absence of such action, EWG points consumers to a short guide to help avoid superbugs, which includes tips such as being aware of misleading labeling, choosing organic meat, and using safe practices in the kitchen.

Link Between Local Temperature Increases and More Antibiotic Resistance Found

A significant note with the threat of climate change looming.

Seeking to better understand the distribution of antibiotic resistance across the U.S., a multidisciplinary team of epidemiologists from Boston Children’s Hospital and the University of Toronto have found that higher local temperatures and population densities correlate with a higher degree of antibiotic resistance in common bacterial strains. The findings were published today in Nature Climate Change.

“The effects of climate are increasingly being recognized in a variety of infectious diseases, but so far as we know this is the first time it has been implicated in the distribution of antibiotic resistance over geographies,” says the study’s lead author, Derek MacFadden, MD, an infectious disease specialist and research fellow at Boston Children’s Hospital. “We also found a signal that the associations between antibiotic resistance and temperature could be increasing over time.”

“Estimates outside of our study have already told us that there will already be a drastic and deadly rise in antibiotic resistance in coming years,” says the paper’s co-senior author John Brownstein, PhD, who is Chief Innovation Officer and director of the Computational Epidemiology Group at Boston Children’s and professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School (HMS). “But with our findings that climate change could be compounding and accelerating an increase in antibiotic resistance, the future prospects could be significantly worse than previously thought.”

During their study, the team assembled a large database of U.S. antibiotic resistance information related to E. coli, K. pneumoniae, and S. aureus, pulling from various streams of hospital, laboratory and disease surveillance data documented between 2013 and 2015. Altogether, their database comprised more than 1.6 million bacterial pathogens from 602 unique records across 223 facilities and 41 states.

Not surprisingly, when looking at antibiotic prescription rates across geographic areas, the team found that increased prescribing was associated with increased antibiotic resistance across all the pathogens that they investigated.

Then, comparing the database to latitude coordinates as well as mean and medium local temperatures, the team found that higher local average minimum temperatures correlated the strongest with antibiotic resistance. Local average minimum temperature increases of 10 degrees Celsius were found to be associated with 4.2, 2.2 and 3.6 percent increases in antibiotic resistant strains of E. coli, K. pneumoniae, and S. aureus, respectively.

More unsettling still, when looking at population density, the team found that an increase of 10,000 people per square mile was associated with three and six percent respective increases in antibiotic resistance in E. coli and K. pneumoniae, which are both Gram-negative species. In contrast, the antibiotic resistance of Gram-positive S. aureus did not appear to be significantly affected by population density.

“Population growth and increases in temperature and antibiotic resistance are three phenomena that we know are currently happening on our planet,” says the study’s co-senior author Mauricio Santillana, PhD, who is a faculty member in the Computational Health Informatics Program at Boston Children’s and an assistant professor at HMS. “But until now, hypotheses about how these phenomena relate to each other have been sparse. We need to continue bringing multidisciplinary teams together to study antibiotic resistance in comparison to the backdrop of population and environmental changes.”

MacFadden says the transmission factor is of particular interest for further scientific research.

“As transmission of antibiotic resistant organisms increases from one host to another, so does the opportunity for ongoing evolutionary selection of resistance due to antibiotic use,” MacFadden says. “We hypothesize that temperature and population density could act to facilitate transmission and thus increases in antibiotic resistance.”

Metallodrug Effective in “Taming” Antibiotic Resistant Superbugs

Metallodrugs are pharmaceuticals that use metal as an active ingredient, and according to the research, this one is able to substantially reduce the dangerous advancement of antibiotic resistance. More hospitals and medical researchers should therefore know about this.

Antimicrobial resistance posed by “superbugs” has been a major public health issue of global concern. Drug-resistant infections kill around 700,000 people worldwide each year. The figure could increase up to ten million by 2050, exceeding the number of deaths caused by cancers, according to figures of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Current clinical options for treating antibiotic resistant infections include increasing the prescribed antibiotic dose or using a combination therapy of two or more antibiotics. This might potentially lead to overuse of antibiotics, producing superbugs more resistant to antibiotics. Nevertheless, the development of antibiotic resistance far outruns the approvals of new antibacterial agents. While it may take a decade and cost an unusual high investment of USD 1 billion in average to bring a new drug to market, generating resistance to a new drug only requires a short couple of years by bacteria. Scientists and clinicians are in desperate need to discover an economic, effective, safe alternative strategy to meet the global public health challenge of antimicrobial resistance.

A research team led by Professor Sun Hongzhe of the Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science and Dr Richard Kao Yi-Tsun of the Department of Microbiology, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, the University of Hong Kong (HKU) discovered an alternative strategy by repositioning colloidal bismuth subcitrate (CBS), an antimicrobial drug against Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) -related ulcer.

They found the bismuth-based metallodrug to effectively paralyze multi-resistant superbugs, e.g. Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) and Carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae (CRKP) and significantly suppress the development of antibiotic resistance, allowing the lifespan of currently-used antibiotic to be largely extended. CRE and CRKP can cause deadly infections such as bacteremia, pneumonia, and wound infections.

The team is the first globally to link the “resistance-proof” ability of metallo-drug to the treatment of superbugs. This bismuth drug-based therapy looks set to become the last-line strategy against superbugs infections apart from development of new antibiotics. Since CBS is a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved drug, it will hopefully be rapidly ready for human clinical trials.

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More importantly, the brand-new therapy allows the dose of antibiotics to be reduced by 90% to attain the same level of effectiveness, and the development of NDM-1 resistance to be significantly slowed down, which will largely extend the life cycle of currently used antibiotics.

In the mouse model of NDM-1 bacterial infection, combination therapy comprising CBS and Carbapenem significantly prolonged the life expectancy and raised the eventual survival rate of infected mice by more than 25 percentage points compared to Carbapenem monotherapy. The research team now concentrates on using CBS-based therapy in other animal infection models, e.g. urinary tract infection (UTI), hoping to offer a more extensive approach to combat with antibiotic resistant superbugs.

Dr Ho found the results very encouraging, he said: “There is currently no effective approach to overcome the NDM superbug. Bismuth has been used clinically for decades. Knowing that it can tame the NDM is like “a good rain after a long drought” for the scientific community.”

CDC Warning About Resistant “Nightmare Bacteria” Appearing in the U.S.

Antimicrobial resistance is among the most important issues facing society today, and it’s somewhat unnerving that there’s such a lack of focus on it. There needs to be a massive new funding effort to develop new ways to fight this threat.

You’ve probably read about antibiotic resistance at some point, but sometimes it’s hard to stress just how important this issue is, especially when it feels like a far off problem.

So how about this – each year, over 23,000 Americans die because of bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics.

According to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), last year, nationwide tests discovered 221 instances of ‘unusual’ germs – bugs resistant to all, or most antibiotics tested on it.

This is no longer a far-off problem – it’s something hospitals are fighting right now.

“Unusual resistance germs, which are resistant to all or most antibiotics tested and are uncommon or carry special resistance genes, are constantly developing and spreading,” the CDC team writes for their in-house journal, Vital Signs.

“Lab tests uncovered unusual resistance more than 200 times in 2017 in “nightmare bacteria” alone.”

Nightmare bacteria are bacteria that are either nearly, or fully untreatable.

The study found that one in four samples sent into the lab for testing had bacteria with special genes that allowed them to spread resistance to other bacteria.

Not only that, but in facilities that had these bacteria with unusual genes, about 1 in 10 symptomless people who were screened had at least one resistant bug.

These people can pass on the resistant bacteria, effectively becoming a silent carrier of an illness.

“CDC’s study found several dangerous pathogens, hiding in plain sight, that can cause infections that are difficult or impossible to treat,” said CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat.

So, what can we do? Many researchers are working on developing more antibiotics, or ways of stopping bacteria without antibiotics, but the CDC is urging hospitals and healthcare providers to stay on top of the problem as well.

“As fast as we have run to slow [antibiotic] resistance, some germs have outpaced us,” Schuchat said to Kaiser Health News.

“We need to do more and we need to do it faster and earlier.”

The paper recommends rapid identification of bacteria to check for resistance, completing infection control assessments, and testing those without symptoms who may also carry and spread the germs.

This is on top of the advice already provided by the CDC to do with correct use to antibiotics, both in prescribing, and taking them – for example, not using antibiotics when you have a viral infection like the common cold or the flu.

But there is some good news as well – the CDC lab network “is working at an absolutely high level of effectiveness,” said William Schaffner, from the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine to Kaiser Health News.

Latest Synthetic Antibiotic is Capable of Eliminating Some Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs

An important discovery for sure.

A “game changing” new antibiotic which is capable of killing superbugs has been successfully synthesised and used to treat an infection for the first time — and could lead to the first new class of antibiotic drug in 30 years.

The breakthrough is another major step forward on the journey to develop a commercially viable drug version based on teixobactin — a natural antibiotic discovered by US scientists in soil samples in 2015 which has been heralded as a “gamechanger” in the battle against antibiotic resistant pathogens such as MRSA and VRE.

Scientists from the University of Lincoln, UK, have now successfully created a simplified, synthesised form of teixobactin which has been used to treat a bacterial infection in mice, demonstrating the first proof that such simplified versions of its real form could be used to treat real bacterial infection as the basis of a new drug.

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As well as clearing the infection, the synthesised teixobactin also minimised the infection’s severity, which was not the case for the clinically-used antibiotic, moxifloxacin, used as a control study. The findings are published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.

It has been predicted that by 2050 an additional 10 million people will succumb to drug resistant infections each year. The development of new antibiotics which can be used as a last resort when other drugs are ineffective is therefore a crucial area of study for healthcare researchers around the world.

Dr Ishwar Singh, a specialist in novel drug design and development from the University of Lincoln’s School of Pharmacy, said: “Translating our success with these simplified synthetic versions from test tubes to real cases is a quantum jump in the development of new antibiotics, and brings us closer to realising the therapeutic potential of simplified teixobactins.

“When teixobactin was discovered it was groundbreaking in itself as a new antibiotic which kills bacteria without detectable resistance including superbugs such as MRSA, but natural teixobactin was not created for human use.

“A significant amount of work remains in the development of teixobactin as a therapeutic antibiotic for human use — we are probably around six to ten years off a drug that doctors can prescribe to patients — but this is a real step in the right direction and now opens the door for improving our in vivo analogues.”

Dr Lakshminarayanan Rajamani from SERI added: “We need sophisticated armour to combat antibiotic-resistant pathogens. Drugs that target the fundamental mechanism of bacterial survival, and also reduce the host’s inflammatory responses are the need of the hour. Our preliminary studies suggest that the modified peptide decreases the bacterial burden as well as disease severity, thus potentially enhancing the therapeutic utility.”

Platypus Milk Could Help Fight Antibiotic Resistance

An important finding through studying animals reveals itself again, and the fight against antibiotic resistance is among the most serious issues of the 21st century.

Researchers previously discovered that platypus milk confers antimicrobial protection to the species’ young, and now a new study led by scientists at Australia’s CSIRO has figured out what it is about platypus milk that’s so effective against bacteria.

“Platypus are such weird animals that it would make sense for them to have weird biochemistry,” says one of the team, molecular biologist Janet Newman.

“By taking a closer look at their milk, we’ve characterised a new protein that has unique antibacterial properties with the potential to save lives.”

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It’s possible, the team thinks, the platypus evolved to produce its antimicrobial Shirley Temple curls, as a defence against bacteria attracted to this exposed milk, ensuring the pups got fed, not bugs in the environment.

That’s just a hypothesis at the moment, but now that we know about the molecular structure of this natural antimicrobial structure, the team says we might be able to replicate the protein for antibiotic medications – providing us with a new means of fighting the growing scourge of antibiotic resistance.

It’s not the first time this unusual animal has come to our aid. In 2016, researchers discovered a hormone contained in platypus venom could actually help us develop new kinds of diabetes treatments.

Not bad for a wacky hybrid of stitched-together animal parts that’s probably just a joke somebody’s playing on us. Not bad at all.

“There’s a quote from [Louis] Pasteur which is ‘Chance favours the prepared mind’,” Newman told Radio NZ.

“You can find discoveries in all sorts of places.”

Powerful New Type of Antibiotics Found in Dirt

The antibiotic type has the potential to kill MRSA. In an age where antimicrobial resistance is already at dangerous levels, valuable new approaches — such as what’s described in the article — are needed.

The modern medical era began when an absent-minded British scientist named Alexander Fleming returned from vacation to find that one of the petri dishes he forgot to put away was covered in a bacteria-killing mould. He had discovered penicillin, the world’s first antibiotic.

Ninety years later, the world faces an antibiotic crisis.

Superbugs have evolved resistance to dozens of drugs in doctors’ arsenals, leading to infections that are increasingly difficult to treat. Global deaths from antibiotic-resistant infections are predicted to hit 10 million a year by 2050.

So in labs around the world, scientists are racing against time tocultivatenew microbe-destroying molecules – but most of the low-hanging fruit has already been picked.

With due respect to Fleming, microbiologist Sean Brady thinks it’s time to shift tactics. Instead of growing antibiotics in a petri dish, he hopes to find them in the ground.

“Every place you step, there’s 10,000 bacteria, most of which we’ve never seen,” said Brady, an associate professor at Rockefeller University in New York.

Many of these bacteria behave in ways that aren’t yet understood and produce molecules that we haven’t been seen before.

That idea is beginning to pay off: in a study published Monday in the journal Nature Microbiology, he and his colleagues report the discovery of a new class of antibiotic extracted from unknown microorganisms living in the soil.

This class, which they call malacidins, kills several superbugs – including the dreaded methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) – without engendering resistance.

You won’t find this antibiotic at your pharmacy next week, Brady cautioned. It takes years for a novel molecule to be developed, tested and approved for distribution.

But its discovery is proof of a powerful principle, he said: a world of potentially useful untapped biodiversity is still waiting to be discovered.

Though antibiotics are prized for their ability to combat the microbes that make humans sick, most of the drugs come from bacteria.

For example, streptomycin, which has been used to treat tuberculosis and plague, is produced by the bacterium Streptomyces griseus. (This microbe was originally found in the dirt of a New Jersey farm field, though the antibiotic research was conducted using cell cultures.)

Bacteria have been fighting one another for billions of years – far, far longer than humans have been around – so it’s hardly surprising that they have evolved all the best weapons.

Yet the vast majority of these microbes don’t grow well under controlled laboratory conditions, making them difficult to study.

“Maybe, using that simple culture-based approach, we’ve missed most of the chemistry that are produced by bacteria,” Brady said.

It would be better to derive interesting molecules directly from the environment. And with the advent of metagenomics, techniques that allow all the genetic material in a sample to be sequenced en masse, researchers can do just that.