Multi-drug resistant bacteria from poultry farms can infect humans: Study

A new study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) on Thursday said the misuse of antibiotics in poultry farms is leading to a multi-drug resistant bacteria that has the potential to infect human beings.

The study, which found high levels of multi-drug resistant bacteria in and around poultry farm, states that the threat is moving out of farms into agricultural fields through litter. The root cause of this spread — improper waste management in poultry farms.

“Bacteria like ‘E coli’ and ‘Klebsiella pneumoniae’ can cause severe infections in humans and show very high resistance to antibiotics that, according to the WHO, are critically important to humans,” said the study titled ‘Antibiotic Resistance in Poultry Environment’ and conducted by CSE’s Pollution Monitoring Laboratory.

During the study, CSE collected samples of litter and soil from in and around 12 randomly selected poultry farms located in four key poultry-producing states in north India — Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Punjab.

The study stated that 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 (CI) for humans by the World Health Organization (WHO),” the study claims.

The antibiotics were being used in the poultry farms and the litter was used as manure in neighbouring agricultural lands. The study adds that through agriculture feilds, the bacteria can reach groundwater or even food.

“From the agricultural fields, these bacteria can go anywhere — into groundwater and food — and can infect agricultural workers and animals, thereby becoming a public health threat,” says Amit Khurana, Senior Programme Manager of CSE Food Safety and Toxins team.

In humans, ‘E. coli’ and ‘Klebsiella pneumoniae’ cause infections which are difficult to treat due to high resistance.

“Disturbingly, we found very high resistance in E. coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae isolates from the poultry environment. If these bacteria infect a human, then hardly will any medicine work as a cure,” said CSE Deputy Director General Chandra Bhushan.

The study also collected soil samples at a distance of 10 to 20 kms from the respective farms and found strong similarity in the resistance pattern of bacteria (E. coli) from the litter and from agricultural soil in the surrounding areas where the litter was used as manure.

“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,” Bhushan said.

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