ANIMAL HUSBANDRY: Poor treatment of animals fueling antimicrobial resistance, experts say

A new study found increases in about 20 different antibiotic-resistance genes in pigs that were fed low doses of antibiotics. PHOTO/Courtesy.

A study carried out by the World Animal Protection on several chicken and pork products has revealed the presence of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Study results released on April 7, 2021 indicate that several pork and chicken samples from several supermarkets and suppliers had tested positive for several antibiotic resistant bacteria.

WAP’s East Africa campaigns head Dr Victor Yamo said the results revealed contamination with bacteria that have adapted to most of the commonly used antibiotics.

“96.6 percent of the samples tested had evidence of bacterial growth. E-coli bacteria were present in 48 percent of the total samples with 47.7 percent prevalence in pork, as compared to 49.2 percent in chicken,” said Dr Yamo.

Shigella accounted for 8 percent, with the antibiotic resistant klebsiella present in 19 percent of the samples, and salmonella 18 percent.

Dr Yamo said the majority of bacteria in the samples were non-disease causing. He however pointed out that klebsiella and shigella were a cause for concern.

“The presence of klebsiella and shigella were a major worry as they were disease causing pathogens responsible for a number of ailments including stomach upsets, diarrhoea and food poisoning,” said Dr Yamo.

The vet said some of the bacteria had mutated into superbugs because of repeated exposure to commonly used antibiotics.

A superbug is a bacterium that is resistant to at least three or more antibiotics. Some   

He was speaking during a webinar on the release of a study by the WAP on the composition of chicken and pork products sold in supermarkets.

In the study that covered six counties Nairobi, Nakuru, Uasin Gishu, Kisumu, Laikipia and Nyeri, 98.4 percent of 184 pork samples and 96.6 percent of 199 chicken samples had evidence of bacterial growth.

Out of 611 bacterial isolates identified, chicken samples were 311 or 51 percent, with pork consisting of 300 samples or 49 percent.

A 2001 study by Mitema, et al estimated that Kenyans consumed a staggering 14, 594 kilograms of antibiotics.

In 2020, Dr Jesse Gitaka and colleagues published a research paper in the BMJ journal that reported on the relatively low numbers that consult medics before buying medication.

“In Africa, many patients do not receive treatment from the conventional healthcare system. Of those who receive antibiotics, 31.7 percent do not consult a doctor for a prescription and a further 26.4 percent obtain the antibiotics over the counter,” reads the report entitled Combating antibiotic resistance using guidelines and enhanced stewardship in Kenya: a protocol for an implementation science approach.

The study cites the prevalence of Salmonella typhi strains that are resistant to two or more antimicrobials that were found to have increased from 50 percent in 1998 to 78 percent in 2004 at Kenyatta National Hospital.

Globally, a total of 131,000 tons of antibiotics are used in animal farming annually. This amounts to three out of every four or 75 percent of all antibiotics produced worldwide.

Dr Yamo called on Kenyans to make informed decisions on what meat products to buy, based on how the animals were treated.

“There is a connection between how animals are raised, fed, slaughtered transported to the supermarkets, stored and packaged. In order to reduce the risk of antimicrobial resistance, all consumers need to decide on buying products from high animal welfare supply chains,” he said.

Dr Yamo said the supermarket management in one case were reluctant to disclose the source of the contaminated meat.

“As researchers studying the supply chain, we requested the supermarket for the supplier’s contacts and got in touch with him . However the said supplier denied dealing with the products we were told about,” said the veterinarian.

Undaunted, his team returned to the supermarket for answers.

“We went back to the supermarket and they owned up to getting the products from a farmer. Sometimes this even happens to customers who will ask about the source of some products. To convince them on its quality and make a quick sale, some outlets will quote a reputable brand as their supplier,” said Dr Yamo.

Dr Yamo warned that modern farming methods that emphasized on large output targets were laying the ground for widespread antimicrobial resistance.

“Intensive farming is responsible for more than half of all zoonotic infections that have moved between animals and people since 1940. Zoonotic transmissions of swine flu, bird flu and Nipah virus are well documented,” said Dr Yamo.

“If we do not use proper animal welfare practices, we will end up having superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics in our food products,” said Dr Yamo.

He warned Kenyans against the habit of purchasing drugs from chemists without getting proper diagnosis of their condition and required medical advice from certified professionals.

“If you are sick, go and get tested before buying any drugs for the condition. Do not dispose used antibiotics directly into the environment via the garbage because they will interact with bacterial which in turn will become resistant to them,” said the vet.

On her part, Kenyatta National Hospital medic and University of Nairobi lecturer Dr Lois Ombajo blamed the misuse of antibiotics on the rising incidence of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in the country.

“Because of widespread antibiotic misuse, we now have the bacteria that have adapted to antibiotics and are resistant to treatment. We are harming our children and endangering their future using drugs that are not indicated or prescribed by doctors,” said Dr Ombajo

She said the internet was also contributing to antibiotic abuse in the country as people were rushing to chemists to buy whatever was being touted as a cure for various ailments, including Covid-19.

“The wrong thing or purported cure sometimes seems to go viral, and some people believe such claims which they only saw online. If you’re experiencing symptoms, it’s always good to check with the nearest medical facility as opposed to buying drugs over the counter,” said Dr Ombajo

According to the medic who heads the Infectious Diseases Unit (IDU) at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), antibiotics should not be bought over the counter.

“Antibiotics are classified as prescription only medicine. More needs to be done with regards to enforcing regulations on their availability and sale in community chemists,” said Dr Ombajo.

“When we use too much of antibiotics, there are too many strains of bacteria that are going to become resistant. You can go to hospital and end up getting another infection. Medics should prescribe the antibiotics only when it is necessary,” she said.

Dr Ombajo advised Kenyans with conditions like hypertension and diabetes to only take medication after consulting doctors.

“If you have mild symptoms sore throat, take antihistamines. HBP and diabetics always need to check with medical professionals before they take any medication.

She also warned against patients’ continued stay at home in case of a persistent cough or flu symptoms.

“If its a cough getting worse, do not stay at home. Go to hospital and get examined. As medics, we need to know if you need to go to hospital and get oxygen or other medical assistance,” she said. 

Globally, 131,000 kilos of antibiotics are used every year on animal farming alone.

Experts estimate that between two to four out of every five, or 40 to 80 percent of antibiotics used in the country’s animal farming are unnecessary.

In poultry and pig husbandry, the most used antibiotics are tetracyclines at 55 percent, followed by sulphadimidine at 20 percent.

Dr Yamo said WAP had set up a ranking system dubbed the Pecking Order as well as the Business Benchmarking for Animal Welfare,

He added that results of a comprehensive survey on the meat supply chain would be released later in the year.

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