Battling 'Super Bugs'

When it comes to the health threat of bacterial "super bugs" that antibiotics can't kill, federal health researchers are now looking to new ways to stop them at the source. One possible threat to humans may start in livestock feed.

CBS News Correspondent John Roberts reports that for years, scientists have warned that the widespread use of antibiotics in animals would one day cause problems in humans. And now, it seems, those problems have come home to roost.

"There has been compelling evidence, particularly in recent years, to establish beyond all doubt that there is a connection between drug use on the farm and resistant infections in humans," says Dr. David Bell of the Centers for Disease Control.

Antibiotics are fed to livestock to prevent illness and promote growth. With chronic use, bacteria can become immune to the drugs and be passed on to humans through eating poorly cooked meat.

A recent Centers for Disease Control study saw drug resistance in bacteria in 12 percent of deadly E-coli, 34 percent of Salmonella and 86 percent of Campylobacter.

Most disturbing was the fact that some Campylobacter is already resistant to Quinilones - antibiotics that were supposed to protect us for decades to come.

"The pipeline of new drugs has been relatively dry. So at least for the next several years, we are in a critical period where we have to prolong the effectiveness of the drugs we already have," Bell says.

To do that, the Food and Drug Administration is revising the rules for the approval and use of antibiotics in livestock, possibly even banning certain drugs if they're also used in humans. But some in the livestock industry feel the proposal goes too far.

"Herds and flocks of poultry will be less healthy. That will lead to more losses for the producer as well as less healthy animals going into the food supply," said Dr. Richard Carnevale of the Animal Health Institute.

Better controlling antibiotics in livestock only addresses half the problem. Their improper use in humans is just as big a threat. If more isn't done to prevent the spread of resistant bacteria, we could be right back to where we were 50 years ago, when there were no antibiotics.

©1999 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved

Featured