Sunday, 21 March 2010
Warning on Hospital Infection
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ATLANTA (AP) — As one superbug seems to be fading as a threat in hospitals, another is on the rise, a new study suggests.
A dangerous, drug-resistant staph infection called MRSA is often seen as the biggest germ threat to patients in hospitals and other health care facilities. But infections from Clostridium difficile — known as C-diff — are surpassing MRSA infections, the study of 28 hospitals in the Southeast found.
“I think MRSA is almost a household name,” said Dr. Becky Miller, an infectious diseases specialist at Duke University Medical Center. “Everybody thinks of MRSA as a serious threat.” Dr. Miller presented the research on Saturday in Atlanta at a medical conference on infection in health care facilities.
“But C. difficile deserves more attention,” she said.
MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, are bacteria that cannot be treated with common antibiotics. They are often harmless as they ride on the skin, but become deadly once they get in the bloodstream. They enter through wounds, intravenous lines and other paths.
C-diff, also resistant to some antibiotics, is found in the colon and can cause diarrhea and a more serious intestinal condition known as colitis. It is spread by spores in feces. The spores are difficult to kill with most conventional household cleaners or alcohol-based hand sanitizers, so some of the disinfection measures against MRSA do not work on C-diff.
Deaths from C-diff traditionally have been rare, but a more dangerous form has emerged in the last 10 years. Still, MRSA is generally considered a more lethal threat, causing an estimated 18,000 deaths annually in the United States.
The new study looked at infection rates from community hospitals in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia in 2008 and 2009. It found the rate of hospital-acquired C-diff infections was 25 percent higher than MRSA infections.
The hospitals counted 847 infections of hospital-acquired C-diff, and 680 cases of MRSA.
Dr. Miller also reported that C-diff was increasing at the hospitals since 2007, while MRSA has been declining since 2005.
Friday, 12 March 2010
On the Ground - Commentary to Acquired Resistance Article in New York Times by BioLargo President & CEO Dennis Calvert
In response to Nicholas Kristof’s March 6, 2010 story, “The Spread of Superbugs”-
By Dennis Calvert – President and CEO of BioLargo, Inc.
The problems are much bigger than most people think. In my journey through life and business, I often ask people if they have ever had personal experience with MRSA. My current tally shows that about two-thirds of the people have personally had an experience or they know someone who has battled this superbug.
My miracle daughter, Kelsey, who is a healthy and beautiful 17-year old, underwent 10+ major heart surgeries before she was one year old, and almost died from the nasty superbug she caught while in the hospital, which tacked an additional $150,000 on the bill.
My business partner and Chief Technology Officer at BioLargo, Inc., Kenneth Code, recognized the threat of superbugs more than 15 years ago when his father had a stroke and was confined to a wheelchair and hospital bed. Ken set out on a mission to not only to help protect his dad, but also come up with strategies to prevent superbugs from being spread to people throughout the world, which eventually spawned a number of patents and the technical foundation of our business, which is now finding its way into commercial markets.
We met, he shared his passion for the mission, I “got it” and off we went on a mission to make a difference in the world.
While pursuing our mission to help keep people safe from disease and infection, we have learned a few principles that we believe are critical to help tackle MRSA and similar issues. We believe it is only a matter of time before industry members and government regulators figure it out.
Don’t mess with Mother Nature
Microbes reproduce in nano-seconds and have been doing so since the millennia. They have and will continue to adapt to environmental threats in order to survive. It is what they do. The balance between good bugs and bad bugs is inevitable and natural. The more we “mess” with Mother Mature, the more virulent her response. And the more reliant we become on antibiotics, the more often we witness the emergence of mutant bugs like MRSA -- nature’s response to imbalance.
No Strategy – No Disinfection
There is no single answer to the problems we face. A comprehensive offensive and defensive strategy is required. The enemies -- dangerous microbes -- are clever and relentless. Any notion that we can “take a pill” is like burying your head in the sand. It’s only a matter of time before the mutuant bugs will respond to an organic attack. Hint: an inorganic attack is required.
Nature shows us the way
We know that free iodine is an essential nutrient that is naturally occurring and naturally processed. It is nature’s best disinfectant. It is the most potent disinfectant. Free iodine is stocked in the ocean and is rained onto the earth through the rain cycle. It has no known acquired resistance capabilities. We feature it for a reason: we were determined to figure out how to get it and deliver it in safe controlled doses.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
When our business first started, I remember learning about the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) Universal Precautions for dealing with infectious materials: Containment, Isolation, Neutralization, and Disposal.
Translation: When you encounter infectious material, you need to get it all in one place, keep it away from living things, kill it, and get rid of it. Simple right? For an individual working in the health field, it is a straight-forward approach.
However, when it comes to designing systems and industry-wide solutions, it took me nearly half a decade to fully comprehend what these concepts mean to industry. What if you could create an environment in which disease just can’t thrive? How about a greenhouse, a farm or an animal stall? What about a bandage or even a hospital room? What about treating a carrier of MRSA so that people could not get infected in the first place? Prevention -- stopping the bug before it gets to the people -- is the best solution.
The boy who cried wolf died
We often hear that the risk of contracting MRSA is low, and if we do catch it, it likely won’t kill you, and we should not overreact. Agreed. There is no argument here. The body’s natural defenses are incredibly efficient, especially if you are healthy. But when you’re not healthy, or if the system keeps throwing the balance out of whack, watch out.
We track CDC’s worldwide reports on pandemic diseases like ebola and swine flu, as well as salmonella and ecoli that affect healthy people too. How MRSA evolved, how it’s transmitted, incubated and mutating are vivid examples of how the system has dramatically missed the mark.
We should be careful to distinguish between systemic industry strategies vs. individual behaviors and fears. Basic consumer strategies like washing hands, cooking food properly, or relying on a great antibiotic drug where appropriately prescribed, are sound strategies for preventing or fighting infection.
We know, however, that the problems are industry and systemic related. I am reminded of a famous quote: “Kill them all and let God sort them out.” That kind of thinking is often how the industry tackles dangerous microbes. Instead, we know you have to find a normalization or equilibrium balance between good and bad microbes.
Often, the weapons chosen are so powerful that they force microbial resistance and throw the natural balance out of order. And eventually, we pay the price.
If you are not the leader of the pack, the view never changes
The price to pay for being an innovator and front-runner is costly. Industry is often paralyzed by its hesitancy to take risk. The fear of change and events beyond its control -- like global economic crisis -- is just plain “stinking thinking.”
As my dad often told me while I was growing up: “When you know that you know that you know and your cause is driven by a purpose greater than yourself, it is only a matter of time before you will have an army of support.”
We like the view from the front better than the alternative.
President & CEO
About BioLargo BioLargo focuses exclusively on methods and systems that harness and deliver nature’s best disinfectant, free iodine, in a safe, efficient, environmentally sensitive and cost effective manner. BioLargo (BLGO.OB) features two patented, eco-friendly and successfully proven iodine platform technologies. The company has launched three healthy, money-saving, odor and moisture control products into national distribution under the “Odor-No-More” brand name. Through its strategic alliance with Ioteq, it has 150 agriculture users for the Isan System in Australia and New Zealand and is preparing to commercialize the system in the USA as well as throughout the world.
The following recent articles help illustrate the MRSA problem:
“The often feared and sometimes deadly infections caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) are now moving out of hospitals and emerging as an even more virulent strain in community settings and on athletic teams, and raising new concerns about antibiotic resistance.”
“Post-surgical infections significantly increase the chance of hospital readmission and death and cost as much as $60,000 per patient, according to Duke University Medical Center researchers who conducted the largest study of its kind to date.”
“Staph was isolated in marine water and in intertidal beach sand in nine of 10 public beaches in Washington state, and half of the strains were MRSA, according to the study from researchers at the University of Washington. “
“Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a major problem in nursing homes with one in four residents carrying the bacteria, a study by Queen’s University Belfast and AntrimAreaHospital has found.”
“Now this same strain of MRSA has also been found in the United States. A new study by Tara Smith, a University of Iowa epidemiologist, found that 45 percent of pig farmers she sampled carried MRSA, as did 49 percent of the hogs tested.”
*Note- The published text was condensed as an excerpt of this writing, and the changes are not considered meaningful to its main message.
Tuesday, 9 March 2010
BioLargo, Inc. Secures Additional Infrastructure and Resources to Continue Building Odor-No-More(TM) Sales Channels
BioLargo, Inc. Secures Additional Infrastructure and Resources to Continue Building Odor-No-More(TM) Sales Channels
La Mirada, Calif. – BioLargo, Inc. (symbol: BLGO) announced today (March 9, 2010) that it has completed several important business developments to better serve its growing sales channels for its award winning Odor-No-More product-line, including its animal bedding additive which can reduce customer's bedding consumption and disposal by up to 75%.
First, the company is now warehousing inventory in multiple locations strategically located throughout the nation to reduce shipping time and costs for its expanding network of distributors and retailers.
BioLargo has also relocated its corporate offices to the ET Horn campus in La Mirada, California and agreed to work with ET Horn as a non-exclusive contract manufacturer. At the same time, ET Horn recently placed another significant order of Odor-No-More's Animal Bedding Additive to meet the growing demand for the product.
· BioLargo has landed its first international distributor that has committed to test market the product in Europe;
· BioLargo has formed Odor-No-More, Inc. as a wholly-owned subsidiary and named Joseph Provenzano as President;
· Major equine industry publications have written about Odor-No-More with more coverage expected and it has been featured on TV. The recent publications can be seen at www.biolargo.blogspot.com and the list includes:
o Best of America By Horseback- a TV show
o The Chronicle of the Horse
o Horse & Rider Magazine
o The Thoroughbred Times
o Horse Tack Review.com
o The Horse – Your Guide to Equine Healthcare
o Bridle & Bit
o The Southern California Equine Directory
o The Southwest Horse Trader
o Northwest Horse Source
“Odor-No-More’s animal bedding additive significantly reduces animal bedding costs, while aiding in hoof and respiratory care and eliminating fly infestations”, Provenzano says. “There is simply nothing in the marketplace that performs so well, and at the same time eliminates odor and moisture. Our customers love our products and our 30 day money back guarantee makes it simple to get started.”
With over nine million horses in the United States, horse owners spend an aggregate 4.6 billion dollars annually on “feed, bedding, and grooming supplies”, according to a 2005 study sponsored by the American Horse Council. Because of this incredible opportunity, BioLargo chose to focus its initial efforts with the Odor-No-More brand in the equine industry.
“We believe the commercial acceptance for Odor-No-More products, will continue to grow as the word gets out and we expand our marketing efforts. We are pursuing multiple ‘go-to-market' strategies that allow us to serve commercial accounts, as well as the wholesale to retail feed and tack suppliers that serve individual customers,” he says.
The company is in preparation to launch a cause-marketing program entitled www.HorseSaver.org, which will enable customers to direct a portion of their purchase of products to their favorite horse rescue to help take care of abused, abandoned or unwanted horses. According to a 2009 report by the Unwanted Horse Coalition, over 170,000 horses are "abandoned or unwanted," placing incredible pressure on horse rescues all over the United States.
According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association 2009-10 National Pet Owners survey, Americans own approximately 93.6 million cats, 15 million birds, 15.9 million small animals and 13.6 million reptiles. “The opportunity to grow market share for our Odor-No-More products within the pet market, as well as the dairy cattle, poultry and livestock markets, both domestically and internationally, is wide open for us,” states Dennis Calvert, BioLargo's President and CEO. "Our animal bedding products eliminate more moisture, faster, than any competing product in the marketplace. And, they 'eliminate' odor rather than just cover them up, better than any other product we know of, and our customers swear by them" states Calvert.
Odor-No-More products are the “tip of the iceberg” for the many commercial uses of BioLargo’s technology platform, according to BioLargo, Inc. CEO Dennis Calvert.
About BioLargo, Inc.
BioLargo's business strategy is to harness and deliver Nature's Best Solution™ -- free-iodine -- in a safe, efficient, environmentally sensitive and cost-effective manner. BioLargo's proprietary technology works by combining micro-nutrient salts with liquid from any source to deliver free-iodine on demand, in controlled dosages, in order to balance efficacy of performance with concerns about toxicity. BioLargo's technology has potential commercial applications within global industries, including but not limited to agriculture, animal health, beach and soil environmental uses, consumer products, food processing, medical, and water. BioLargo's strategic partner Ioteq IP Pty Ltd. was named a "Top 50 Water Company for the 21st Century" by The Artemis Project™; BioLargo markets Ioteq's iodine based water disinfection technology, the Isan system. The company's website is www.BioLargo.com. The Odor-No-More products are sold by BioLargo's wholly owned subsidiary, Odor-No-More, Inc. (www.OdorNoMore.com). BioLargo now archives investor and shareholder communications at www.biolargoshares.blogspot.com.
Monday, 8 March 2010
Ground-Breaking Odor-No-MoreTM Delivers a Serious Solution to Age-Old Problem
Ever since horses have been kept in stalls, horse owners have been adding to, and then mucking out, large quantities of bedding in a futile attempt to reduce the odor and moisture in these stalls.
Horse owners know first-hand how expensive it can be and that even “good” bedding cannot do the job. The solution to this age-old problem has finally arrived in Odor-No-MoreÔ, which just launched its award-winning super-absorbent product proven to lower costs and totally eliminate odor and moisture, reduce flies and promote hoof health to create a cleaner, dryer, safer and healthier stall.
BioLargo, Inc.’s (Symbol: BLGO) line of Odor-No-More™ products help owners tackle the many unpleasant and unhealthy consequences of urine in horse stalls and trailers.
“Until now, available stall additives did not help much,” says Joe Provenzano, creator of Odor-No-More™. “With Odor-No-More™, you can see and smell the results in minutes.”
Odor-No-More™ is proven to reduce the amount of bedding consumed by up to 75%. Flies disappear as a result of eliminating all odors that horse owners and horses breathe. Horse hooves are in better condition and the soil in the stall is amended to retain and absorb liquid. Amazingly, no removal required.
Here is how Odor-No-More™ works: take a handful of Odor-No-More™ and place it where your horse urinates. The urine is quickly absorbed. All unpleasant odors are immediately eliminated. Horses no longer step into puddles of urine. Flies no longer congregate. Hoofs remain clean and dry, and the horse is healthier. Cleanup and removal is as simple as putting on a pair of boots.
After years without innovation in this category of products, Odor-No-More™ immediately took center stage with its launch this past year. It received a Best New Products Award at SuperZoo (the pet industry’s largest show) and was rapidly picked up by major suppliers and retail locations, including O.H. Kruse and Sons and Star Milling, both feed producers, along with Jeffers Equine and Dover Saddlery, the industries largest catalog and online retailers of equine products.
At a recent EquineAffair in Massachusetts, Tom Seay witnessed a demonstration of Odor-No-More™ and was amazed by how quickly and effectively the product worked. On the spot, he decided to feature the product on the show he hosts, Best of America By Horseback, on RFD-TV. The spotlight is scheduled to air in early 2010 on more than 600 cable networks and satellite providers in 14 countries.
Through its quick acceptance in the horse industry, Odor-No-More™ has also proven to be a huge money saver for stable owners. The management at the Huntington Central Park Equestrian Center in California (HCPEC) testifies to the monthly savings from using Odor-No-More™. In its toughest stall, the center saved more than $300 per month. After conducting an on-site trial and witnessing the remarkable benefits of Odor-No-More™, HCPEC decided to adopt the product for use throughout their entire 460-stall facility.
Odor-No-More is a bedding and product sponsor of The Red Bucket Equestrian Rescue, which operates out of HCPEC. Helping lower the cost of care for rescued horses makes the savings even more critical.
Odor-No-More™ began with Provenzano, who was raised on a horse ranch in Northern California and has tended horses his entire life. As a lifelong horse owner, working cattle, active in 4H showing horses and amateur rodeo, he has experienced the cost and labor involved with caring for horses.
“Before we introduced Odor-No-More™, horse owners just lived with all these expensive and messy problems,” Provenzano says. “When we discovered that we could cut monthly costs so drastically and deliver all these great benefits, we knew we could transform the way our horses are stalled changing the industry forever.”
He worked closely with customers and equine professionals, including Jack Van Berg, the legendary Hall of Fame thoroughbred trainer, to create the ideal product for horses. They mucked a lot of stalls. Through several formulations and extensive testing to reach perfection, Odor-No-More™ was born.
“I was excited about the product from the beginning,” Van Berg says. “In my 50+ years training the best horses and winning the biggest races, I have never seen a product more effective.”
With Odor-No-More, soil in the stall is amended to absorb liquids, wicking urine away from horses’ feet creating quality footing. Additionally, the product uses micro-nutrients for odor elimination. These are the same micro-nutrients supplied in feed supplements as well as curative products for many common hoof ailments.
“I use fewer shavings in the stall and trailer because of Odor-No-More and that has saved us a lot of money and time,” says Shelly Martin, NCHA 1995 World Champion. “The industry has been waiting for a product like this.”
“Of the more than nine million horses in the U.S., we estimate more than half are stalled with bedding,” Provenzano says. “Before Odor-No-More™, our average customer was spending $100 or more per month per horse in bedding alone. This multi-billion dollar industry segment was desperate for innovation to reduce consumption and disposal.”
BioLargo, Inc. is all about making a difference in the world with its patented and patent pending technology, and Provenzano recognized a way to do just that in the horse industry. It goes beyond just great products. It’s about getting directly involved, and Provenzano became involved with The Red Bucket Equine Rescue in its infancy.
“Saving money means more resources to rescue and rehabilitate more horses,” he says. “The rescue industry is the saving grace for many horses. The amount of good a rescue can do is limited by financial support and keeping costs in line without sacrificing quality of care.”
Provenzano recently adopted Cooper, a three-year-old Blue Roan Quarter Horse, one of the many horses rescued by the Red Bucket Equine Rescue.
As the man behind Odor-No-More™, Provenzano has been diligently working with BioLargo’s upcoming 2010 launch of www.Horsesaver.org to help fund rescues. The program provides a practical way for companies that make their money from the horse and to give back to the horse by contributing a percentage of the proceeds from their product sales to help fund equine rescues across the country.
“We currently have multiple manufacturers and suppliers onboard,” Provenzano says. “HorseSaver.org is unique in the way customers have the ability to direct money to their favorite rescue. We have a real shot at making a significant difference. Our goal is to provide financial support to every equine rescue in the country, funded by the sales of an array of high quality products through horsesaver.org. At BioLargo we believe doing good is good business.”
Ellen Silbergeld, Eng '72 (PhD), recalls that she did not want to go to the seminar. She was a professor of epidemiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1999 when her department's chairman needed an audience for the seminar's presenter, a candidate for a faculty position. Silbergeld recalls the chairman saying, "Please, just sit in the room. You can come to lunch." So she sat in the room, and something caught her attention. The seminar was on hospital-acquired infections, but the presenter mentioned in passing that some drug-resistant infections came from food. That seemed odd.
Silbergeld knew you could pick up Salmonella from, say, tainted chicken salad. But how would that Salmonella have become resistant to antibiotics? She turned to a colleague and asked. Because, he said, factory chicken farms routinely feed antibiotics to their flocks, to accelerate growth, and the drugs generate resistance.
Ten years later, Silbergeld, now a professor of environmental health sciences at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, is one of several researchers at Johns Hopkins and around the world assembling evidence that the industrial farming of chickens, pigs, and cattle is cultivating more than poultry and livestock — it's cultivating bacteria that medicine is losing the ability to fight. Antimicrobial drugs, including antibiotics like penicillin, ciprofloxacin, and methicillin, kill pathogenic bacteria.
But they simultaneously drive the resistance that is bacteria's defense, especially when administered in low, subtherapeutic doses. Scientists estimate that 50 percent to 80 percent of all antimicrobials in the United States are not used by doctors to treat sick people or animals but are added to farm animal feed, mostly in such subtherapeutic dosages. Public health researchers like Silbergeld are convinced that this nontherapeutic use of antimicrobials is building dangerous genetic reservoirs of resistance. If they are right, industrial agriculture is fostering and dispersing drug-resistant bacteria that impair medicine's ability to protect the public from them.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that livestock and poultry produce 335 million tons of manure per year, which is one way resistant pathogens get out of animals and into the environment. That's 40 times as much fecal waste as humans produce annually. Farms use it for fertilizer and collect it in sheds and manure lagoons, but those containment measures do not prevent infectious microbes from getting into the air, soil, and water. They can be transported off the farms by the animals themselves, houseflies, farm trucks, and farm workers, and by spreading manure on other fields. Out in the environment, they form a sort of bank of genetic material that enables the spread of resistance.
Kellogg Schwab, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Water and Health, refers to a typical pig farm manure lagoon that he sampled. "There were 10 million E. coli per liter [of sampled waste]. Ten million. And you have a hundred million liters in some of those pits. So you can have trillions of bacteria present, of which 89 percent are resistant to drugs. That's a massive amount that in a rain event can contaminate the environment."
He adds, "This development of drug resistance scares the hell out of me. If we continue on and we lose the ability to fight these microorganisms, a robust, healthy individual has a chance of dying, where before we would be able to prevent that death." Schwab says that if he tried, he could not build a better incubator of resistant pathogens than a factory farm. He, Silbergeld, and others assert that the level of danger has yet to be widely acknowledged. Says Schwab, "It's not appreciated until it's your mother, or your son, or you trying to fight off an infection that will not go away because the last mechanism to fight it has been usurped by someone putting it into a pig or a chicken."
Industrial agriculture, known variously as factory farming, concentrated-animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and industrial farm animal production (IFAP), has produced an abundance of affordable steaks, pork chops, and broilers for grocery shelves over the last 65 years or so. It grew out of chicken farms on the Delmarva Peninsula, Midwestern pork processing plants, and cattle feedlots in Kansas and elsewhere. In 2008, the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Bloomberg School produced a report titled "Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America," that outlined how, after the conclusion of the Second World War in 1945, farm mechanization and the Green Revolution's program of genetic selection, irrigation, and chemical fertilizers combined to produce grain, soybean, and especially corn harvests of extraordinary abundance. With all that available corn, if you could feed it to livestock, you didn't need to raise animals in pastures. You could concentrate them in barns or feedlots and raise far more animals on far less land.
Meanwhile, starting with mechanized hog slaughterhouses and Delmarva chicken farms, canny entrepreneurs began to figure out how to take traditional animal husbandry — grazing cattle, rooting pigs, and chickens pecking in a barnyard — and transform it into the industrial production of protein, with the efficiencies and economies of scale of any manufacturing industry. They also grasped the entrepreneurial advantages of vertical integration. On Maryland's Eastern Shore, Arthur W. Perdue left his job as a railroad agent in 1920 to sell eggs. By the 1940s, the company he founded began moving into the production of broilers. Arthur's son, Frank, took over the company in 1950 and invested in hatcheries, soybean refineries, feed mills, and processing plants, launching the company on a course to become a modern integrated farming operation. The concept was simple: If Perdue owned the hatchery, the feed production, and the processing plants, it could gain significant efficiencies, control its costs, establish the steady, predictable production of raw materials, and grow into a very large company with control of a significant share of the market. According to Perdue, by 2007 it was processing 633 million chickens per year and had total sales of $4.1 billion.
In July 1946, the Journal of Biological Chemistry published a research paper out of the University of Wisconsin that detailed the results of feeding three antimicrobials to chickens. The summary included a crucial sentence: "Sulfasuxidine and streptomycin singly or in combination lead to increased growth responses in chicks receiving our basal diet supplemented with adequate amounts of folic acid." That is, feeding antimicrobials to chickens made them grow faster. Agribusiness, eager to increase profits by minimizing how long it took to get a chicken breast or pork roast from the farm to your dinner table, was about to become a major customer for pharmaceutical products.
How major is disputed. In 1999, the Animal Health Institute (AHI), a trade association representing 17 companies including Abbott Laboratories, Bayer, Dow AgroSciences, Monsanto Company, and Pfizer, released a study that estimated 17.8 million pounds of antimicrobials were used each year, for all purposes and for all animals, including pets. For its 2001 report, "Hogging It: Estimates of Antimicrobial Abuse in Livestock," the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) mined data on antimicrobial production and concluded that AHI's figures were much too low; UCS estimated that 24.6 million pounds are applied annually just for nontherapeutic purposes — primarily growth promotion — in only three types of farm animals — cattle, swine, and poultry. A 2003 paper published by Poultry Sciencequestioned both figures and stated, "No unbiased estimates of antimicrobial use in animals exist at the present time." Any estimate becomes problematic as soon as one understands what UCS called "the dismal absence of information" about both production and consumption of antimicrobials. The federal government does not collect figures on how much product comes out of the pharmaceutical industry, nor does it require agricultural corporations to disclose how much they use.
In his 1945 Nobel Prize address, Alexander Fleming warned that it was easy to produce microbes resistant to his discovery, penicillin: Simply expose them to concentrations of the drug insufficient to kill them. Possibly the first warning that antibiotics could produce drug-resistant pathogens in poultry came as far back as 1951, when two bacteriologists at the University of California, Davis named Mortimer P. Starr and Donald M. Reynolds published a paper that noted in its summary: "The use of streptomycin as a growth-promoting supplement in turkey poults results in the appearance within three days of streptomycin-resistant coliform bacteria." But little apparent attention was paid to Starr and Reynolds, or to Fleming. During ensuing decades, tens of millions of pounds of tetracycline, penicillin, and other antibiotics were fed to animals on American and European farms. In some cases, the drugs were used to treat sick animals, in amounts that killed the bacteria. But most were fed to cattle, pigs, turkeys, and chickens in exactly the subtherapeutic dosages that Fleming warned would only make bacteria stronger.
After Silbergeld first heard about farmers feeding antibiotic additives to broiler chickens, she asked two faculty members in Maryland's poultry science program to show her the school's chicken barns on the Eastern Shore. As soon as she walked into one, she thought, "This is really serious." There were thousands of chickens crowded in tight confines. She says, "They are raised — how can I put this nicely? — they are raised on top of their own shit. They walk around on litter, which is sawdust or some kind of substrate, covered in feces. It's the most unhygienic thing you can imagine." The air was hot and full of dust. Periodic partial removal of litter from the barns created large piles of manure that were stored outside with minimal containment measures. Any farm worker laboring in such a facility had to be exposed to microbes, Silbergeld thought. If the chickens had been fed antibiotics, then some of those microbes had to be drug resistant.
While still at the University of Maryland, Silbergeld decided her first farm project would be to study whether poultry workers and people in farm communities were at risk of carrying the same strains of drug-resistant bacteria found in chickens, a study she finished after she came to Johns Hopkins in 2001. In Eastern Shore communities like Pocomoke City, Princess Anne, Smyrna, and Salisbury, she enrolled three groups of subjects: workers whose job was to catch chickens in the barns to load onto trucks for transport to processing plants, chicken hangers who attached live birds to the mechanized line at the plant, and community residents who did not work in the industry but lived near it. She found that 41 percent of the chicken catchers had been colonized byCampylobacter jejuni, which is commensal in poultry — it derives benefit from the chicken without harming it — but pathogenic in people, where it's the second-leading cause of gastrointestinal disease in the United States. Among the workers at the poultry processing plant, the rate of colonization was 63 percent. Of the nine people who lived near but did not work in the industry, 100 percent had been colonized.
Carole and Frank Morison became contract growers for Perdue 22 years ago on a farm near Pocomoke City. Drive down U.S. 13 toward the Morisons' place and you will see the land become flat as a plank and ideal for farming. The roads around Pocomoke City lead past one chicken farm after another, each marked by a sign displaying the name of the farm and the company that provides its chickens: Aydelotte Farm — Tyson; Sheep House Farm — Tyson; Poor Boy Farm — Mountaire; Meatball Farm — Tyson. You will see long, closed barns vented by giant fans. What you will not see anywhere is a chicken. They are there, hundreds of thousands of them, but they are all enclosed in the barns. From the road, you don't even hear a cluck.
In 1987, Frank Morison, a second-generation Eastern Shore farmer, approached Perdue to get into the chicken business. There was no such thing as becoming a poultry farmer by simply buying some chickens to raise. If you did not have a contract with a processor like Perdue, Tyson, or Mountaire, you would have great difficulty buying chicks, buying feed, or finding a place to sell your broilers after they'd reached market weight. Basically, Morison says, anything but doing business with a big processor was impossible. So Morison borrowed $200,000 against his house and his land to build a pair of 20,000-square-foot barns. Perdue specified every aspect of the construction.
After the barns were built, one day a truck pulled up to the farm and delivered 54,400 chicks, plus the feed that Morison, by stipulation of his contract with Perdue, was to feed them. Perdue dictated the number and type of chicks, which they owned and merely consigned to Morison; the amount, price, and composition of feed; and the date, 51 to 53 days later, on which workers would be back to pick up the grown birds for processing. Whenever the chickens from his farm were processed, Perdue informed Morison how much they weighed, how much it would pay him per pound, and how much the company was deducting for feed and other supplies it had required him to use. Morison says in the end he typically cleared 2 percent to 3 percent per flock, not counting his labor.
Neither federal nor state regulations require processors to divulge the exact contents of the feed they furnish their growers; the government allows the processors to treat that information as proprietary. So the Morisons say they never knew the quantity of heavy metals like selenium, copper, arsenic, and zinc, or the amount of drugs like tetracycline and penicillin, that were going into, and eventually coming out of, the birds on their farm. But they began to notice how often their farm neighbors complained of not feeling well. Carole says, "There are a lot of sarcastic jokes among farmers. You'd be talking to someone and he'd say, 'Yeah, I'm not feeling too good this week, I got vaccinated along with the chickens.' It was just a routine thing. But people were having 'the bug' too often. Kind of like flu symptoms: achy body, upset stomach, bronchial issues." The Morisons exhibited the same symptoms. Around 1995, Carole recalls, she became intolerant of antibiotics, which began to give her hives, upset her stomach, and worsen her asthma. "To this day, I still have problems."
Last July, the Morisons got out of the chicken business. They say that Perdue had notified them that to continue growing for the company, they would need to make $150,000 worth of upgrades to their facilities. They balked at the expense and decided they'd had enough of farming. They are now employed by the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, working to link farmers all over the Chesapeake Bay watershed and create local markets and local distribution systems. "Going back to raising food the way it used to be raised," Carole says.
At Hopkins, Silbergeld decided to concentrate her initial research on the occupational health aspects of factory farming. With five co-authors from the Bloomberg School and the School of Medicine, she published the first U.S.-based study of poultry workers colonized by resistant microbes, reporting that 50 percent of surveyed workers carried E. coli that was resistant to the antimicrobial gentamicin, compared to only 3 percent of community members who did not work with poultry. She studied the association between occupational contact with live chickens,Campylobacter jejuni, and peripheral neuropathy, and found a significantly elevated presence of anti-Campylobacterantibodies in poultry workers, indicating colonization; many of those workers also reported symptoms of neurological disorders associated with the pathogen.
Researchers at other institutions around the world reported similar associations. At industrial poultry or swine farms, there were drug-resistant bacteria colonizing farm workers and their families. In 2003 and 2004, Kellogg Schwab sampled the air at a factory farm that housed 3,000 hogs in two buildings. The samples contained enterococci, staph, and streptococci, and 98 percent of the bacterial isolates were resistant to two or more common antimicrobials. In a paper published in Environmental Health Perspectives, Schwab suggested that one way bacteria could travel from animals to humans was by workers breathing that air. In another study from 2002 to 2004, Schwab sampled surface and ground water upgradient and downgradient from a pig farm. He and his co-researchers found the downgradient water — that is, water in the direction of flow from the pig barns — contained 17 times as much enterococci, 11 times as much E. coli, and 33 times as much fecal coliforms as water upgradient from the facility. The downgradient pathogens also were much more likely to be antibiotic resistant.
One day, a Bloomberg School colleague down the hall from Silbergeld came back from a weekend on the Eastern Shore complaining about how disgusting she'd found having to drive behind a truck hauling chickens to a processing plant. Silbergeld remarks, "When somebody says 'disgusting,' I say, 'Wait a minute, there's got to be something going on here.'" She and two of her students, Ana Rule and Sean Evans, designed what they called the "baby-you-can-drive-my-car" study. They loaded passenger cars with sampling equipment, figured out that an intersection on the Eastern Shore near the Virginia border would have a lot of poultry trucks passing through on the way to Perdue and Tyson processing plants, and drove to an adjacent shopping center parking lot. Whenever a poultry truck stopped at the traffic light, the researchers would slide in behind and follow it to the processors. Afterward, they sampled the air inside the car, as well as the car's exterior door handles and an unopened soda can they had placed in the car's cup holder. They found that the air in the car and both surfaces showed increased levels of enterococci after they'd driven behind the chicken trucks. Samples obtained before the car followed the trucks contained no resistant enterococci; a quarter of the bacteria isolated after the trucks showed resistance to antimicrobials, including tetracycline, erythromycin, and streptomycin.
This was not the only study that involved a car. Jay Graham, formerly one of Silbergeld's grad students and now at the United States Agency for International Development, was studying issues of waste disposal on the Eastern Shore. He noticed that every time he came back to Baltimore, his car was covered with flies, and this led him to wonder if flies might be capable of dispersing resistant bacteria from factory farms. Graham told Silbergeld that he wanted to do a study. "I said, 'That's OK, so long as you don't bring any flies here.' The next thing I knew, we had these two big jars full of flies in the lab and I thought, 'So much for that.'" Graham had trapped the flies near poultry farms on the Eastern Shore and found resistant staph and enterococci on them. He analyzed both pathogens for drug-resistance genes and found matches in bacteria taken from the flies and bacteria taken from farm litter, a strong indication that flies are a potential source of exposure to the resistant bacteria lurking in farm wastes.
Scientists know that resistant pathogens can travel from farms by air, water, bird, housefly, chicken truck, or manure spreader, but they do not yet have a good answer to how far they can travel or how long they can remain viable. Just because a researcher detects drug-resistant staph in an air sample doesn't prove it's likely to make anyone sick. But one means of transmission that can cover significant distances is person-to-person — a farm worker, for example, picks up bacteria in a chicken barn and passes it to a family member, who passes it to a member of the community, who brings it into a health clinic or hospital, where it takes up residence and begins causing antibiotic-resistant infections in surgical patients and the immuno-compromised. For years, scientists, physicians, and the public have regarded increasingly prevalent drug-resistant infections as a hospital problem (see "Bugs vs. Drugs," Johns Hopkins Magazine, February 2008). That's where dangerous microbes like vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) and methicillin-resistantStaphylococcus aureus(MRSA) lurk and spread. But then hospitals began to report more and more people who had never been near a health care facility coming through their doors already colonized by resistant bacteria. Where were people picking up bugs like MRSA, which now kills more than 20,000 people each year, more people than die from AIDS?
About three years ago, Silbergeld began thinking about MRSA and industrial agriculture. She was not the only one. In November 2006, Dutch researchers reported the case of a young mother treated for mastitis in October 2004. Cultures taken by her general practitioner revealed MRSA, which was then found in her husband and baby daughter. Her husband was a farmer with 8,000 pigs, and when researchers tested 10 chosen at random from the farm, they found genetically identical MRSA in eight of them, and the same bug in three other workers from the farm. In another case, also from Holland, a 63-year-old woman had been admitted to a hospital with MRSA-caused endocarditis. When scientists typed her infection, they found it did not match hospital-acquired strains of MRSA, nor the strains causing community-acquired MRSA skin infections in the United States. What it did match was MRSA isolated from Dutch pig farms. Yet another study from Holland found the rate of MRSA colonization among pig farmers to be 760 times that of the general public. A year later, Canadian research published in Veterinary Microbiology was the first to find MRSA in North American pigs and pig farmers; scientists studied farms in Ontario and found MRSA in 25 percent of tested pigs, and 20 percent of workers from farms that had colonized animals. On farms that were free of colonized pigs, there were no human cases. Finally, last January, a study out of the University of Iowa sampled 299 pigs and 20 workers from two farms in Iowa and Illinois. The researchers found MRSA in 49 percent of the animals and 45 percent of the people. This was the first such finding in the United States, and the strain, ST398, was identical to what had been found in Canada and Holland.
Silbergeld has begun a MRSA study of her own, trying to establish attributable risk — that is, how much exposure to industrial agriculture contributes to the overall prevalence of MRSA in people coming into hospitals. The crux of the matter, she believes, comes down to molecular biology. Bacteria have a remarkable capability for sharing genes, through what is known as horizontal gene transfer. The old view of resistance was Darwinian: In the presence of antibiotics, a mutation would be naturally selected if the mutated gene helped a microbe survive application of the drugs. "That underestimates the brilliance of microbes," Silbergeld says. Molecular biologists now understand that within a microbial community, one microbe can acquire genetic material from another microbe, even a microbe of a much different type, then incorporate it in its own genome and thus acquire resistance to an antibiotic it has not yet even encountered. It's as if bacteria are capable of downloading resistance from a gene database.
What's more, microbes carry genes in what are called resistance cassettes, which can be thought of as kits that contain a variety of genes for fighting off different drugs. So, a germ resistant to tetracycline may have a resistance cassette that contains not only the gene for fighting off that drug, but genes resistant to other drugs, as well. The result? A person could be colonized by a tetracycline-resistant germ that does her no harm, but lurks in her system and contains, in its cassette, resistance to methicillin. If this unlucky person then acquires a simple staph infection, and that staph encounters the first microbe and taps its resistance cassette, her routine staph infection has now become MRSA and she could be in real trouble. Silbergeld's biggest concern is that factory farms are building reservoirs of these resistance cassettes in animals, in the environment, and in humans.
The trade association for the Eastern Shore's poultry producers is Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc. The day before Earth Day 2009, the headline on DPI's Web site read, "Every Day is Earth Day for Delmarva's Chicken Industry." The agriculture industry argues that removing antibiotics will result in more sick animals, that there is insufficient data to prove that resistant pathogens from farms are making people sick, and that there needs to be better drug-specific risk assessment. For its part, Perdue states that it does not use antibiotics for growth promotion, "nor do we use any antibiotics continuously for any reason," according to a statement on its Web site. In a 2006 USA Today story, Tyson's chief veterinarian said that his company had reduced its antibiotic use from 853,000 pounds in 1997 to 59,000 pounds in 2004, and now applied antibiotics to less than 1 percent of its broilers. (A Perdue spokesperson said the company would not consent to an interview for this story. Neither Tyson nor DPI returned calls from Johns Hopkins Magazine.)
The May 2009 issue of For the Record, "straight talk about antibiotic use," published by Alpharma Animal Health, a division of King Pharmaceuticals, cites four studies that state the risk of transmission of drug-resistant pathogens from farm animals to humans is negligible, as would be the benefit of withdrawing antibiotics such as virginiamycin from agricultural use. Three of the studies were conducted by Cox Associates, a consulting firm that does health-risk analysis for the USDA and for a variety of corporations and industry associations, including the American Petroleum Institute, the Chemical Manufacturer's Association, Monsanto, and Mobil Oil. One Cox study, published in Environment International, says that "it appears very probable that such a withdrawal [of virginiamycin from agricultural use] would cause many times more human illnesses than it would prevent." That study acknowledges use of a quantitative assessment tool that was developed with financial support from AHI, the agricultural pharmaceutical trade association.
Liz Wagstrom, assistant vice president of science and technology for the National Pork Board, disputes the premise — she calls it "a kind of urban legend" — that subtherapeutic dosages of antibiotics drive resistance. She says, "When you go out looking for hard data, you can find examples where that may be true, and you can find examples where that's not demonstrated. So the fact that subtherapeutic use is automatically going to be more selective for resistance than any other use of antibiotics — I'm not sure that I'm willing to say that that's a hard and fast rule."
Wagstrom makes a similar argument in regard to MRSA: "There's been a lot of fingers pointed at the potential contribution of pigs to the U.S. epidemic of MRSA, and it's been based on very little data. I think it's been positioned to try to put fear in people about modern agricultural practices, and that's probably not scientifically justified."
Defenders of industrial agriculture cite studies from Purdue University, Ohio State University, and Iowa State University that found no proof linking MRSA in pigs to the pathogen in humans, that pigs reared without antibiotics are more likely to carry Salmonella and parasitic disease, and that 96 percent of antibiotic resistance should be attributed to human, not agricultural, use of drugs.
The National Pork Producers Council's communications director, Dave Warner, says, "We don't believe we are the main cause of antibiotic resistance. The American Veterinary Medicine Association says that on a per-pound basis people and their pets use 10 times as much antibiotics as livestock production does. Every bathroom and kitchen in America has antibacterial soap in it."
He adds, "We are not saying, 'There is no connection, leave us alone.' We certainly are concerned about it. But I don't think that use of antibiotics in livestock ought to be singled out, and if we do something about that all the problems are taken care of. But that's probably an easier problem to go after. There are only 67,000 pork producers [in the U.S.]. How many doctors are out there? And how many people?"
The whole debate exasperates Silbergeld, who says, "These arefeed additives. It's like using antibiotics as hair dye." She adds, "We have this practice of permitting the addition of almost any antibiotic that you can think of to animal feed, for no therapeutic purpose, under conditions that absolutely favor the rise of resistance. We have no controls or management of the wastes. Our food safety system is a shambles. This is a situation that is widely recognized by the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, and by others, and nothing happens! It's astounding to me!"
Silbergeld and Schwab support the use of drugs to treat sick animals but believe all antibiotics should be banned from animal feeds. They have followed the debate over cefquinome, a fourth-generation cephalosporin antibiotic. A Delaware company, InterVet Inc., wants FDA approval to use cefquinome to treat bovine respiratory disease. But the antibiotic is chemically related to cefepime, one of the few remaining options for treating deadly infections in cancer patients. Scientists fear that if pathogens develop resistance to cefquinome, that resistance could quickly ruin cefepime for human use. The American Medical Association, several other health groups, and the FDA's own advisory group have all urged the agency to reject the drug for use on farm animals, but it has yet to do so. Silbergeld is appalled.
"Sometimes I think we're such a dumb species, we don't deserve to survive on this planet," she says. "I mean, how many times do we have to do this?"
Dale Keiger is associate editor of Johns Hopkins Magazine.