It is getting hard to keep track of all the recalls and outbreaks associated with foodborne illness lately. In the last month, apples, vegetable products, meat, and fish have all been recalled for possible Listeria contamination. In the same time frame, a Salmonella outbreak that has been linked to ground beef has been making the rounds, and an E. coli outbreak has been linked with packaged salad products (romaine lettuce is once again the suspect).
Our centralized, industrialized food system is at the heart of the increase in food contamination and recalls. Modern farming and modern food manufacturing methods are breeding grounds for bacteria. (source)
To make matters worse, superbugs are rapidly becoming a serious threat, and we are running out of ways to kill them. Several new studies and reports shed light on just how dire the situation is.
In the future, superbugs will kill millions every year.
Earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that by the year 2050, 10 million people worldwide could die each year from antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Currently, the WHO estimates that 700,000 people globally die from infection with drug-resistant microbes every year. At that point, these “superbugs” will have surpassed cancer, heart disease, and diabetes to become the main cause of death in the human race.
Superbugs are bacteria that have developed resistance to one or more classes of antibiotics, rendering those antibiotics less effective in treating infections. They are also known as antimicrobial-resistant bacteria (ARB).
One of the reasons antibiotic resistance is a growing problem is their widespread use in animals raised for food.
According to a recent study published in the journal Science,
There is a clear increase in the number of resistant bacterial strains occurring in chickens and pigs.
Globally, 73% of all antimicrobials sold on Earth are used in animals raised for food. A growing body of evidence has linked this practice with the rise of antimicrobial-resistant infections, not just in animals but also in humans. Beyond potentially serious consequences for public health, the reliance on antimicrobials to meet demand for animal protein is a likely threat to the sustainability of the livestock industry, and thus to the livelihood of farmers around the world. (source).
Certain types of infections pose significant risks.
The CDC recently published a report on Antibiotic/Antimicrobial Resistance, which revealed that more than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur in the U.S. each year, and more than 35,000 people die as a result. In addition, 223,900 cases of Clostridioides difficile occurred in 2017 and at least 12,800 people died.
Clostridioides difficile (C.diff) is of special concern because it causes a dangerous infection that is linked to antibiotic use. It can cause deadly diarrhea when antibiotics kill beneficial bacteria in the digestive system that normally keep it under control. When the C. diff. illnesses and deaths are added, the annual U.S. toll of all these pathogens is more than 3 million infections and 48,000 deaths.
C. diff., drug-resistant gonorrhea, and carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE) are known as “nightmare bacteria” because they pose a triple threat. They are resistant to all or nearly all antibiotics, they kill up to half of patients who get bloodstream infections from them, and the bacteria can transfer their antibiotic resistance to other related bacteria, potentially making the other bacteria untreatable.
Candida auris, a dangerous fungal infection that preys on people with weakened immune systems, is quietly spreading across the globe, as we reported earlier this year:
The CDC is concerned about C. aruis for three main reasons, according to the agency’s website.
It is often multidrug-resistant, meaning that it is resistant to multiple antifungal drugs commonly used to treat Candida infections.
It is difficult to identify with standard laboratory methods, and it can be misidentified in labs without specific technology. Misidentification may lead to inappropriate management.
It has caused outbreaks in healthcare settings. For this reason, it is important to quickly identify C. auris in a hospitalized patient so that healthcare facilities can take special precautions to stop its spread.
As of August 31, 2019, 806 confirmed cases of C. auris have been reported in the US. Beyond the reported clinical case counts, an additional 1642 patients have been found to be colonized with C. auris. While exact figures are not available (many infected people had other serious health issues that contributed to their deaths), an estimated 30-60% of those infected with C. auris die. (source)
One form of Acinetobacter, a group of bacteria commonly found in the environment (like in soil and water) has developed resistance to nearly all antibiotics:
Acinetobacter baumannii can cause infections in the blood, urinary tract, and lungs (pneumonia), or in wounds in other parts of the body. It can also “colonize” or live in a patient without causing infections or symptoms, especially in respiratory secretions (sputum) or open wounds.
These bacteria are constantly finding new ways to avoid the effects of the antibiotics used to treat the infections they cause. Antibiotic resistance occurs when the germs no longer respond to the antibiotics designed to kill them. If they develop resistance to the group of antibiotics called carbapenems, they become carbapenem-resistant. When resistant to multiple antibiotics, they’re multidrug-resistant. Carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter are usually multidrug-resistant. (source)
Pork products recently tested positive for antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Pigs are one of the most intensively farmed animals in the world, according to a new report from nonprofit World Animal Protection. The organization tested pork products sold in two well-known national retail chains in the US, including Walmart.
Here is an excerpt from the report’s summary:
A total of 160 samples of pork were purchased from several stores of Walmart and a competing national retailer over a period of several days in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. The samples, 80 from each retailer, were tested by a laboratory at Texas Tech University (TTU) in 32 batches of five samples each for the presence of bacteria commonly found in pigs and pork in the U.S.: E. coli, Salmonella, Enterococcus, and Listeria. Bacteria isolated from the batches were then tested for susceptibility to antibiotics.
According to the data provided to World Animal Protection by the laboratory, a total of 51 bacteria were isolated from 30 batches including:
Enterococcus in 27 batches
E. coli in 14 batches
Salmonella in six batches
Listeria in four batches
Batches of samples from Walmart were far more likely to contain a detectable presence of two or more of the bacteria in a single batch than the other chain, and all batches that tested positive for three or more bacteria were obtained at Walmart.
Antibiotic susceptibility testing conducted by the laboratory revealed that 41of the 51 bacteria isolated from the pork samples were resistant to at least one class of medically important antibiotic. Twenty-one of the bacteria were multi-drug-resistant, meaning they were resistant to three or more classes, with three being resistant to six classes of medically important antibiotics.
The majority of multi-drug-resistant strains were isolated from Walmart sample batches, including all strains resistant to four or more drug classes. All seven strains resistant to Highest Priority Critically Important Antimicrobials (HPCIA) were in Walmart samples. (source)
Several new studies show just how serious the situation is.
A study published in September 2019 found that bacteria can change shape inside our bodies to avoid antibiotics. Here’s an excerpt from an article Katarzyna Mickiewicz, the lead study author, wrote:
Some of the ways that bacteria become resistant to antibiotics is through changes in the bacteria’s genome. For example, bacteria can pump the antibiotics out, or they can break the antibiotics down. They can also stop growing and divide, which makes them difficult to spot for the immune system.
However, our research has focused on another little known method that bacteria use to become antibiotic resistant. We have directly shown that bacteria can “change shape” in the human body to avoid being targeted by antibiotics – a process that requires no genetic changes for the bacteria to continue growing. (source)
Researchers have found a new survival mechanism for a commonly known type of bacteria. It can send out warning signals and thus make sure that other bacteria escape ‘dangers’ such as antibiotics, according to another new study:
Some bacteria develop resistance to otherwise effective treatment with antibiotics. Therefore, researchers are trying to develop new types of antibiotics that can fight the bacteria, and at the same time trying to make the current treatment with antibiotics more effective.
Researchers are now getting closer to this goal with a type of bacteria called Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which is notorious for infecting patients with the lung disease cystic fibrosis. In a new study, researchers found that the bacteria send out warning signals to their conspecifics when attacked by antibiotics or the viruses called bacteriophages which kill bacteria.
‘We can see in the laboratory that the bacteria simply swim around the ‘dangerous area’ with antibiotics or bacteriophages. When they receive the warning signal from their conspecifics, you can see in the microscope that they are moving in a neat circle around. It is a smart survival mechanism for the bacteria. If it turns out that the bacteria use the same evasive manoeuvre when infecting humans, it may help explain why some bacterial infections cannot be effectively treated with antibiotics’, says researcher Nina Molin Høyland-Kroghsbo, Assistant Professor at the Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences and part of the research talent programme UCPH-Forward. (source)
Antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella are on the uptick, according to a study published a few days ago. Here’s an explanation from a press release titled The Nature of Salmonella is Changing – and It’s Meaner:
“If you get a salmonella infection that is resistant to antibiotics today, you are more likely to be hospitalized longer, and it will take you longer to recover,” said Shannon Manning, MSU Foundation professor in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics and senior author of the study. “We need better detection methods at the clinical level to identify resistant pathogens earlier so we can treat them with the right drugs the first time.”
Losing a day or more to misdiagnosis or improper treatment allows symptoms to get worse. Doctors might kill off a subpopulation of bacteria that are susceptible, but the ones that are resistant grow stronger, she added. (source)
Scientists are exploring alternatives to antibiotics.
In response to the growing number of bugs that are drug-resistant, scientists are learning to identify and isolate them in hopes of preventing large outbreaks. They are also making efforts to tighten up the use of antibiotics in an effort to slow the development of resistant strains, but many experts say it is too late, and that these actions will only buy us a little time.
There isn’t much incentive to develop new antibiotics, mainly because the development of one new antibiotic costs about $2 billion and takes about 10 years, and the likelihood of drug companies making a profit on such drugs is low.
An international team of researchers recently announced, however, that they have discovered a “novel peptide” they call Darobactin that attacks gram-negative bacteria:
More and more bacterial pathogens of infectious diseases become resistant to customary antibiotics. Typical hospital germs such as Escherichia coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae have become resistant to the most – and in some cases even all – currently available antibiotics. Their additional external membrane makes these bacteria difficult to attack. It protects the bacteria particularly well by preventing many substances from getting into the cell interior. Especially for the treatment of diseases caused by these so-called gram negative bacteria, there is a lack of new active substances. An international team of researchers, with the participation of scientists from Justus Liebig University Giessen (JLU), has now discovered a novel peptide, that attacks gram negative bacteria at a previously unknown site of action.
Darobactin exhibited an excellent effect in the case of infections with both wild-type, as well as antibiotic-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Escherichia coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae strains. Thus, Darobactin presents a very promising lead substance for the development of a new antibiotic. (source)
Another new study found that copper hospital beds in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) harbored an average of 95% fewer bacteria than conventional hospital beds, and maintained these low-risk levels throughout patients’ stay in hospital:
Knowledge of copper’s antimicrobial properties dates back to ancient Ayurveda, when drinking water was often stored in copper vessels to prevent illness. In the modern medical era, numerous studies have noted copper’s antimicrobial properties.
However, until recently, no-one had designed acute–care hospital beds that enabled all high risk surfaces to be encapsulated in copper. “Based on the positive results of previous trials, we worked to get a fully encapsulated copper bed produced,” said Dr. Schmidt. “We needed to convince manufacturers that the risk to undertake this effort was worthwhile.”
This in situ study compared the relative contamination of intensive care unit (ICU) beds outfitted with copper rails, footboards, and bed controls to traditional hospital beds with plastic surfaces. Nearly 90 percent of the bacterial samples taken from the tops of the plastic rails had concentrations of bacteria that exceed levels considered safe.
“The findings indicate that antimicrobial copper beds can assist infection control practitioners in their quest to keep healthcare surfaces hygienic between regular cleanings, thereby reducing the potential risk of transmitting bacteria associated with healthcare associated infections,” said Dr. Schmidt.
With the advent of copper encapsulated hospital beds, dividends will likely be paid in improved patient outcomes, lives saved, and healthcare dollars saved. (source)
Earlier this year, a study found that cannabidiol (commonly known as CBD) is remarkably effective at killing a wide range of Gram-positive bacteria, including types of staph and strep bacteria, as well as strains that had become resistant to other antibiotic drugs.
In a press release, study lead author Dr. Mark Blaskovich, of The University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience’s Centre for Superbug Solutions in Brisbane, Australia, said of the findings:
“Given cannabidiol’s documented anti-inflammatory effects, existing safety data in humans, and potential for varied delivery routes, it is a promising new antibiotic worth further investigation. The combination of inherent antimicrobial activity and potential to reduce damage caused by the inflammatory response to infections is particularly attractive.”
Cannabidiol had a similar potency to established antibiotics such as vancomycin and daptomycin, and did not lose effectiveness after extended treatment.
Importantly, the drug retained its activity against bacteria that have become highly resistant to other common antibiotics. Under extended exposure conditions that lead to resistance against the antibiotics vancomycin or daptomycin, cannabidiol did not lose effectiveness.
It was also effective at disrupting biofilms, a physical form of bacteria growth that leads to difficult-to-treat infections. (source)
This research was not the first to demonstrate CBD’s bacteria-fighting properties. Two previous studies showed that CBD may be effective against a killer infection: Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, or MRSA. While research on CBD as a treatment for serious infections is in the early stages, the mounting scientific evidence showing the compound’s powerful antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial properties is promising.
This might be a good time to grab a copy of Prepping for a Pandemic: Life-Saving Supplies, Skills and Plans for Surviving an Outbreak by Cat Ellis – it can help you prepare for the impending bacterial apocalypse.