Each year, 23,000 Americans die from infections that can't be treated with antibiotics. And researchers have long suspected that many of these antibiotic-resistance bacteria originate on farms, given that antibiotics tend to be used most heavily on livestock.
But that raises a question: how do the bacteria travel from farms to people? Some bacteria are carried on packaged meat, eggs, and milk products. There's also evidence of farms contaminating water and livestock workers carrying bacteria home by accident. But a new paper lays out a different potential mechanism — flies.
Each year, 23,000 Americans die from antibiotic-resistant infections
The process might go something like this: a cow treated with antibiotics develops a drug-resistant strain of bacteria. The cow poops, a fly eats the feces, the fly travels and lands on human food, the fly regurgitates while eating the food or poops on it. Then people eat the food and get sick from antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Figuring out the precise mechanisms is important because it can help us develop ways to prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance. In the United States, up to 80 percent of antibiotics are used on livestock, according to some estimates. Those drugs are used to prevent or treat illness, or to simply make animals grow bigger. This winter, the FDA proposed a voluntary phasing out of certain antibiotics for animal growth over the course of several years.