Antibiotic Resistance from Animal Agriculture: Foodborne Illness and Medical Care

The Physicians Committee

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Antibiotic Resistance from Animal Agriculture: Foodborne Illness and Medical Care

Resistant Bacteria in Medical Care

Antimicrobial-resistant pathogens are an important public health concern. Nine out of 10 staphylococcal infections in the United States are now resistant to penicillin.13 From 1999 to 2006, cases of MRSA increased by more than 90 percent among patients seeking hospital medical attention.14 Patients experience painful sores and abscesses that can penetrate bones and major organs, proving fatal in about 17 percent of cases.15

A study supported by the CDC and published in JAMA in 2007 estimated that MRSA infects more than 94,000 people and kills nearly 19,000 annually in the United States—more deaths than are caused by emphysema, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, and homicide.16 Most recently, a U.S. study found a new strain of MRSA to be five times deadlier than all other known strains, killing 50 percent of its victims within 30 days. It is also showing greater resistance to vancomycin, the one potent antibiotic that has been effective in treating MRSA.17,18

Antibiotic-resistant infections are difficult to treat and have high rates of morbidity and mortality. Prolonged hospital stays and elaborate care are often necessary. A 2008 study estimated that the costs of treating such infections in 188 patients admitted to a single hospital totaled more than $13 million.19 A 1998 report estimated that antibiotic-resistant bacteria generated a minimum annual cost of $4 to $5 billion to U.S. society and individuals yearly; those costs have no doubt increased greatly since then.20

In the European Union and Norway, the six most frequent resistant infections account for 25,000 deaths and roughly 2.5 million extra hospital days annually. The costs of infections were estimated at €1.5 billion each year, with more than €900 million related to hospital costs.21 In addition, the economic cost to vegetable farmers, many of whom were wrongly implicated in the recent E. coli outbreak in Europe, was close to €400 million each week during the outbreak.