Benefits to human health associated with the use of antibiotics in chicken may outweigh the potential risks

The potential benefits to human health associated with the use of antibiotics in chicken may outweigh the potential risks, according to a risk-benefit analysis conducted by a team of researchers led by Randall S. Singer, D.V.M., Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine.

Recent studies have shown that antibiotic use in animal production results in healthier animals, and the meat derived from these healthier animals has lower levels of bacteria that can cause food-borne illness in people. Other evidence indicates however, the use of antibiotics also has the potential to increase the level of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in meat. The researchers developed a mathematical model to evaluate the potential human health risks and benefits of the use of the antibiotic, tylosin, in chickens. They compared the potential risks associated with increased levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in meat with the potential benefits associated with decreased risk of food-borne illness.

"Antibiotic resistance is a problem in both human medicine and animal production agriculture," Singer said. "But our model demonstrated that the reduced number of infections and illness days associated with the use of tylosin in chicken far exceeded the increased human health risks associated with antibiotic resistance due to tylosin use."

Singer will present the results of the study at the annual Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ICAAC) in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 2. The presentation will be one of many on antibiotic resistance, bioterrorism, and infectious disease, all of which are hot topics in veterinary medicine as well as human medicine.

"Veterinarians have a commitment to both animal and human health -- which are strongly connected," said Jeff Klausner, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota. "At the University of Minnesota, the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety is actively addressing many of these issues."

In addition to Singer, the authors of the study were L. Anthony Cox, Cox Associates, Denver, Colo.; James S. Dickson and H. Scott Hurd, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa; Ian Phillips, University of London, London; and Gay Y. Miller, University of Illinois, Urbana, Ill. The study was funded by Elanco, the animal health division of Eli Lilly and Company.

The College of Veterinary Medicine improves the health and well-being of animals and people by providing high-quality veterinary training, conducting leading-edge research, and delivering innovative veterinary services.

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