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.

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.”

Supercharged Antibiotics Could Fight Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs

Now the question here becomes one of how many older antibiotics can be revitalized.

An old drug supercharged by University of Queensland researchers has emerged as a new antibiotic that could destroy some of the world’s most dangerous superbugs.

The supercharge technique, led by Dr Mark Blaskovich and Professor Matt Cooper from UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB), potentially could revitalise other antibiotics.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria — superbugs — cause 700,000 deaths worldwide each year, and a UK government review has predicted this could rise to 10 million by 2050.

Dr Blaskovich said the old drug, vancomycin, was still widely used to treat extremely dangerous bacterial infections, but bacteria were becoming increasingly resistant to it.

“The rise of vancomycin-resistant bacteria, and the number of patients dying from resistant infections that cannot be successfully treated, stimulated our team to look at ways to revitalise old antibiotics,” Dr Blaskovich said.

“We did this by modifying vancomycin’s membrane-binding properties to selectively bind to bacterial membranes rather than those of human cells, creating a series of supercharged vancomycin derivatives called vancapticins.”

The rebooted vancomycin has the potential to treat methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE).

Professor Cooper said pharmaceutical companies had departed the antibiotic discovery field because new antibiotics were difficult to find and were not as lucrative as cholesterol-lowering medications or cancer treatments.

“Hence many scientists are re-engineering existing drugs to overcome bacterial resistance, rather than searching for new drugs,” he said.

“Drug development is normally focused on improving binding to a biological target, and rarely focuses on assessing membrane-binding properties.

“This approach worked with the vancapticins, and the question now is whether it can be used to revitalise other antibiotics that have lost effectiveness against resistant bacteria.

“Given the alarming rise of multi-drug resistant bacteria and the length of time it takes to develop a new antibiotic, we need to look at any solution that could fix the antibiotic drug discovery pipeline now,” Professor Cooper said.

The research, published in the journal Nature Communications, was supported by the Wellcome Trust, the world’s largest biomedical charity, and Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council.