Drugs for poultry set off alarm bells

Multi-drug resistant bacteria are moving from poultry enclosures to agricultural fields, says study

September 01, 2017 02:13 am | Updated 02:13 am IST - NEW DELHI

India’s poultry farms maybe breeding grounds for multi-drug resistant bacteria, says a study conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

That misusing antibiotics has quickened drug resistance in frontline medicines used for tuberculosis and pneumonia in people is known but the investigation highlights the minimal attention being given to the role of livestock and animals in exacerbating drug resistance, said CSE Deputy Director-General Chandra Bhushan.

Anti-microbial resistance

“The Environment Ministry doesn’t even recognise anti-microbial resistance (AMR) as a problem,” he said at a conference to announce these findings.

CSE researchers collected litter (that included faecal samples) and soil from 12 randomly selected poultry farms in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Punjab. As many as 217 bacterial isolates were extracted from them and checked for their susceptibility to 16 key antibiotics that are also used to treat infections in people. Some of them, such as meropenem, are meant exclusively for treating human infections.

The soil samples were collected from three sources: from inside chicken coops, poultry farm soil, and the adjoining farms.

Three key species of bacteria— Escherichia coli , Klebsiella pneumonia and Staphylococcus lentus —were found in these samples.

Bacterial isolates

Most of the bacteria were from the litter samples and there were more bacterial isolates in the agricultural soil than for the poultry farm soil samples.

When these bacterial samples were tested for drug resistance, it emerged that 100% of the E.coli samples, 92% of Klebsiella and 78% of Staphylococcus were multi-drug resistant, meaning that were not killed by at least three different antibiotics in the lab.

“This indicates that multi-drug resistant E.coli is moving from poultry enclosures to agricultural fields,” said Amit Khurana, a CSE researcher involved with the exercise.

“From the fields, they can spread to groundwater and food and infect people and animals,” he added.

Strains involved

The study—which wasn’t scientifically peer-reviewed— however didn’t identify the strains of E.coli involved.

There are several strains of E.coli and most are known to exist harmlessly in places as varied as the human gut as well as soil.

Pathogenic strains of E. coli, such as Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC), Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC), are known to be responsible for epidemics.

‘Lack of regulation’

“We didn’t classify it by strains, but the larger point is that bacteria can transfer resistance-causing genes to other bacteria and, given their numbers, pose a threat to human health,” said Mr. Khurana.

The growth in poultry consumption and the lack of regulation in restricting the use of antibiotics is a matter of concern, according to Mr. Bhushan.

“We have a National Action Plan on antibiotic resistance but it is neither funded adequately nor does it have enough experts,” he added.

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