Antibiotic misuse in poultry leads to multi-drug resistant bacteria

Large-scale misuse of antibiotics in poultry farms in India coupled with poor waste management is leading to multi-drug resistant bacteria, a new study by the CSE said on Thursday.

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) found that bacteria are now spreading into environment through the litter from these farms and they can easily infect the humans.

“Antibiotic misuse is common in the poultry sector. What makes the situation worse is the fact that the sector is also plagued with poor waste management,” Chandra Bhushan, CSE Deputy Director General, told IANS.

“Therefore, we first wanted to understand the extent of antibiotic resistance in the poultry environment and then establish if the resistance bacteria are moving out of the poultry farms into the environment through waste disposal.”

The CSE’s findings are based on samples of litter and soil collected from 12 randomly selected poultry farms located in four key poultry-producing states — Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Punjab.

A total of 217 isolates of three types of bacteria — E. coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae and Staphylococcus lentus — were extracted and tested for resistance against 16 antibiotics.

Ten of these antibiotics have been declared critically important for humans by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The study titled “Antibiotic Resistance in Poultry Environment” and conducted by the CSE’s Pollution Monitoring Laboratory found that 100 per cent of E. coli, 92 per cent of Klebsiella pneumoniae and 78 per cent of Staphylococcus lentus isolated from the poultry environment were multi-drug resistant.

About 40 per cent of E. coli and 30 per cent of Klebsiella pneumoniae isolates were resistant to at least 10 out of 13 antibiotics against which these bacteria were tested for resistance.

Also, both E. coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae had very high resistance to antibiotics of critical importance to humans such as penicillins, fluoroquinolones, third and fourth generation cephalosporins and carbapenems, which is a last resort antibiotic used in the hospitals.

“In humans, E. coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae cause infections which are becoming difficult to treat due to high resistance. We found very high resistance in E. coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae isolates from the poultry environment,” Bhushan said.

“In some of the isolates, all antibiotics that we tested were ineffective. If these bacteria infect a human, then hardly any medicine will work as cure.”

The findings on E. coli clearly establish that resistance is moving out of farms to fields through litter.

Bhushan, however, said more studies are required to understand the behaviour of the other two bacteria.

The study also suggests that untreated litter is being used in agricultural fields.

Clearly, India needs an antibiotic resistance-centric approach to waste management from poultry farms. The study recommends controlling rampant antibiotic misuse as the most effective step to contain spread of resistance from farms.

Further, it recommends that the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change along with the central and state pollution control boards should play a greater role by enacting necessary laws and standards as well as ensuring regular monitoring and surveillance.

CSE’s Senior Programme Manager Amit Khurana said less risky manure management options such as bio-gas generation should be promoted. Composting should only be done if other options are not available.

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