The Dangerous Superbugs Hiding in Your Dinner

Publication: SELF Magazine

Author: Maryn McKenna


06/01/2012 - Lisa Bonchek Adams didn't think anything could make her sicker than the hell she went through five years ago—a double mastectomy, chemo and the removal of her ovaries. Then she sat down to a meal with a girlfriend in June 2010 and ordered a grilled-chicken salad.

The next afternoon, she was struck with intense nausea and her stomach started rumbling. "Uncontrollable diarrhea," the 42-year-old recalls with a wince. She tried to wait it out, but 24 hours later, she was seeing blood in her stool. So she begged her doctor to see her on a busy Friday. She gave her an antibiotic and urged her to head straight to the emergency room for IV fluids.

A few days later, test results revealed she had campylobacter, an infection that undercooked chicken can transmit. The doctor gave Adams a second antibiotic, Cipro, which normally knocks out the germ. She took it for 10 days and felt slightly better. Still, the mere thought of eating made her feel faint. She sipped chicken broth, but anything more than a bite of bread roiled her stomach again. "Stick with it," she recalls the doctor telling her. "When an infection wipes out your intestines, it can take some time to reset."

But within days of finishing the drugs, Adams found her symptoms had returned in full force. She called her doctor's office immediately and learned the problem: The campylobacter strain, the doctor surmised, was resistant to both antibiotics she had been given. "I was miserable, and so scared for my health," she says.

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Foodborne superbugs may take victims by surprise, but according to researchers and advocates, there is no mystery about their origin. Hundreds of pieces of research since the 1970s show that a routine farming practice—inappropriately giving antibiotics to animals—has helped encourage antibiotic-resistant bacteria to grow and spread. Now, in unpredictable ways, those germs have moved into our environment, including the environment of farms that harvest vegetables.

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"The best thing we can do is to hold the FDA's feet to the fire to ensure that they meaningfully change the way industrial farms use antibiotics," says Rogers of the Pew Charitable Trusts. Pew has attracted nearly 23,000 people to join its Moms for Antibiotic Awareness Campaign at SaveAntibiotics.org, which is pressing to close loopholes in the recent FDA action.

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Read the full article, The Dangerous Superbugs Hiding in Your Dinner, on SELF Magazine's website.

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