09/25/2012 - Everly Macario’s 18-month-old son Simon woke up one morning crying and gasping for air, his skin ice cold. Rushed to an emergency room, doctors couldn’t determine what was wrong—and in less than a day, Simon died.
Tests determined he had contracted methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant infection also known as a “superbug.” Alarmingly, cases like Simon’s are becoming more common.
Public health scientists and doctors have been warning for decades that antibiotics are becoming ineffective against life-threatening human infections in large part because they are overused on industrial farms. This year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration called for veterinarians to oversee antibiotic use on such farms, which account for 80 percent of U.S. antibiotic sales.
The drugs are often given to healthy animals in low doses to promote fast weight gain and to compensate for unsanitary conditions. But those small doses encourage development of drug-resistant bacteria that can infect people.
Macario has a doctorate in public health from Harvard University but she had not heard of MRSA until it took her son’s life in 2004. She now volunteers with Pew’s Supermoms against Superbugs, an initiative of the Pew Campaign for Human Health and Industrial Farming, which educates mothers because they are most likely to buy their families’ food and take their children to doctors’ visits.
“Every time we use an antibiotic, we risk creating a superbug. Sometimes, when people or animals are sick, we must tolerate that risk and use those drugs to fight infection,” Macario said. “But we cannot afford to throw these drugs around industrial farms simply to rush a healthy pig or chicken to reach slaughter weight.”
Just after Mother’s Day this year, Pew worked with the American Academy of Pediatrics to host “supermoms” from around the country in Washington, DC, for meetings with the Obama Administration to strengthen FDA’s antibiotic policies and with members of Congress to promote the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act. The legislation would limit use of drugs critical for treating human infections from use on healthy food animals.
For more on Pew’s efforts in this area, go to www.saveantibiotics.org.