Carbapenem antibiotics are often used as a “last resort” agent when fighting off multi-drug resistant bacteria in humans. For the first time in the United States, carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) has been found in a pig farm, potentially posing a threat to the country’s food supply. The research was conducted by Ohio State University and published in the Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology.
In the U.S., carbapenem antibiotics are not used in foods because of its importance in human medicine. The superbug’s presence in food could potentially make humans resistant to it as well.
According to the study, the gene linked to CRE was found in a plasmid (a small DNA molecule). Genes carried in plasmids can transfer from one bacteria cell to another, which means the replication of antibiotic-resistant genes is more likely to occur, according to the British Journal of Pharmacology.
“CRE is one of the nastier superbugs,” David Wallinga, senior health officer for the National Resources Defense Council, wrote on the organization’s website. “Infections with these germs are very difficult to treat, and can be deadly—the death rate from [human] patients with CRE bloodstream infections is up to 50%.”
The Ohio State University study discovered CRE in newborn pigs that were given a dose of an antibiotic called ceftiofur. “Continuing to use ceftiofur and other antibiotics in weaner pigs likely is a big part of the problem,” Wallinga noted.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, the use of cephalosporins — the class of antibiotics that includes ceftiofur — in U.S. farms increased by 57 percent between 2009 and 2014, Mother Jones reported.