Since the beginning of human history people have been faced with illness and disease. Both infectious and non-communicable diseases are suffered through by everyone who has lived. Sometimes it’s those illnesses that remind you that you are alive; especially when you survive through them after feeling as you surely should die. Correspondingly, people have sought to fight disease and cure their ailments. It was not until recent history that scientists discovered antibiotics to be used to treat specific strains of bacterial infections. However, these antibiotics have been proven to cause more harm than good in the long term; primarily with antibiotic resistance on the rise and super-bugs spreading faster than the news agencies can report.
When antibiotics were first introduced, they were quickly utilized in the farm environment to treat livestock disease such as mastitis and bovine tuberculosis. Farmers realized that adding antibiotics to the animal feed regularly caused an increase in growth rate in addition to better health of their livestock; even when feeding them the same about of food as before antibiotics were added. Farmers also realized something else: they would acquire an infection but antibiotics would not treat it as effectively as before. These were the first experiences with what we know now as antibiotic resistant bacterial infections. Erythromycin was one of the first examples of the evolution of antibiotic resistance. It was introduced as an alternative to penicillin in the 1950’s and was completely withdrawn after less than a year because seventy percent of all the S. aureus isolates collected were found to have become erythromycin resistant. Subsequently, the same occurred with several more antibiotics.
What we know now is that during therapeutic use, the exposure of bacterial pathogens to high concentrations of antibiotics for extended periods of time lead to higher levels of resistance in the bacterial pathogens. Even at sub-inhibitory concentrations, which are concentrations below what would typically be used to inhibit bacterial growth, antibiotics can facilitate the genetic process which leads to antibiotic resistance. This means that antibiotics have been show to enhance gene transfer and recombination, leading to resistance in its strain. Even antimicrobials can play a role in this, which enhances the frequency of resistant strains showing up in hospitals and sewage systems.
Stepping away from the genetics, and looking at the big picture of how these seemingly minute bacterial changes can affect our population so greatly, we learn more that we want to know. Did you know that sixty nine percent of ground turkey is infected with at least one of five bacterial strains from fecal matter that cause disease in humans? Eighty percent of the bacteria are resistant to three or more groups of closely related antibiotics. Causing this goes back to farmers giving antibiotics regularly in their birds’ diet at a very low dose throughout their lives. The antibiotics are removed from their diet long enough before slaughter that they do not have it in their systems when killed. This may sound good if you don’t want a side of antibiotics with your meat, but those birds that were regularly given that small amount of antibiotics are shown to harbor the strains of bacteria that are antibiotic resistant and are responsible for human infection. I must add in here that turkey labeled “organic,” “no antibiotics,” or “raised without antibiotics” never receive antibiotics, and if they do need medication at some point in their lives, they are sent to a non-organic market for sale. When you buy organic, no antibiotic birds you are just as likely to receive meat that is contaminated with bacteria that cause illness, however, they are highly unlikely to include the antibiotic resistant strains.
It is obvious that the evolution of antibiotic resistance involves many combined genetic processes that are impossible to stop, but what can we mere humans do to decrease this ever-progressing problem? After much research and some small scale studies on my own on the effectiveness of essential oils, I hope to find that oils can in fact be used in place of traditional antibiotics in certain circumstance. I will continue unveiling my research in following articles.
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