A deadly outbreak of “superbug” salmonella sprung up in the US late last year. While this is certainly not the first time drug-resistant bugs have been found in the US, the outbreak marks yet another milestone on the road to a future without antibiotics.
Over 250 people across 32 states fell sick with a strain of Salmonella that’s resistant to multiple antibiotics between June 2018 and March 2019, according to a recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). At least two people died from the infection, and a further 60 cases were so severe that they required hospitalization.
The outbreak of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella infections was linked back to beef bought in the US and a “Mexican-style soft cheese” obtained in Mexico. They found that the strain didn't respond to ciprofloxacin and had "decreased susceptibility" to azithromycin, two of the main antibiotic drugs used to treat Salmonella infections. The unusual strain – known as Salmonella enterica serotype Newport – emerged no later than 2016 and is still continuing to spread among cattle.
To reduce the risk of infection, drug-resistant or otherwise, the CDC dished out the following advice:
“To prevent infection, consumers should avoid eating soft cheese that could be made with unpasteurized milk, and when preparing beef they should use a thermometer to ensure appropriate cooking temperatures are reached: 62.8°C (145°F) for steaks and roasts followed by a 3-minute rest time, and 160°F (71.1°C) for ground beef or hamburgers.”
Make no mistake, human activity is the cause of this outbreak. The increasing misuse of antibiotic drugs has certain strains of bacteria becoming resistant to medication through the process of evolutionary pressure.
While drug-resistant bugs are often blamed on grubby hospitals and people not finishing their course of antibiotics, much of the problem lies in agriculture, with farmers loading their livestock full of antibiotics (often if they’re not even sick) to prevent an outbreak. A report led by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in 2018 revealed that thousands of tonnes of colistin – what medics refer to as the “last hope antibiotic” – were being shipped to India for use in livestock.
The World Health Organization cites antibiotic resistance as “one of the biggest threats” to global health, food security, and development. It's estimated that over 33,000 people die each year from antibiotic-resistant infections in Europe alone, a health burden that's said to be on par with influenza, tuberculosis, and HIV combined. Without action, change, or development, that figure is set to surge in the coming decades.