In the news: Scientists find high levels of drug resistant bugs in poultry farms in Punjab and more

A wrap of health news over the past week.

Drug-resistant bugs in chickens

Scientists have found high levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in chickens raised for both meat and eggs in poultry farms in Punjab. The findings raise health concerns for human beings that consume poultry products and point to the indiscriminate use of antibiotics to promote the growth of birds in poultry farms.

The research was led by the Centre for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy, headquartered in the US, and was conducted in 2014. The study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives last week, was conducted to understand drug resistance on farms in India.

The study was conducted in 18 poultry farms in six districts of Punjab. Samples of 530 birds were taken. The scientists isolated e-coli bacteria from these samples and tested them for resistance to a range of antibiotics routinely used to treat humans. Two-thirds of these farms reported using antibiotics for growth promotion (to increase weight of the animal), the study found.

The chickens were found resistant to some important and commonly used drugs such as ampicillin and ciproflaxin. The World Health Organisation has classified as these as drugs that should be available at all times for patients with basic infections.

“Overuse of antibiotics in animal farms endangers us all as it multiplies drug resistance in the environment,” said Ramanan Laxminarayan, the study’s lead author and the director of Centre for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy. “Punjab is one of the leading states in India in poultry farming. It is critical that we take measures to end the use of antibiotics for growth promotion in animal breeding practices.”

The press release issued by the Centre for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy said that the farms using antibiotics as growth promoters were three times more likely to report multi-drug resistant bacteria than those who did not use growth promoters. Meat producing farms had twice the rates of antibiotic resistance as compared to egg producing farms, as well as higher rates of multi-drug resistance.

Maharashtra revokes ban on pan masala

The Maharashtra Food and Drug Administration has decided not to renew the ban on pan masala this year.

Pan masala (scented areca nut or flavoured supari) is a known carcinogenic and had been banned in the state for the last five years.

Maharashtra was the first state to ban the sale of gutkha and pan masala in 2012 as per the Food Safety and Standards (Prohibition and Restrictions on sales) Regulations, 2011, which prohibits the use of tobacco and nicotine as ingredients in any food products. Pan masala without tobacco, though legal under the Regulations, was banned using a special power given to the FDA commissioner.

Since 2012, the ban has been renewed every year. However, on July 17, the state’s Food and Drug Administration renewed the ban on gutkha, but not on scented areca nut. The order said the government has formed a single-member committee to take decision on banning pan masala , till when its sale will be allowed.

Public health experts expressed disappointment over the decision. “World Health Organisation and several studies in India have proven beyond doubt that pan masala causes serious health hazards including mouth and throat cancer ,” said Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, a head and neck surgeon from Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai.

Last year, the Supreme Court ordered all the states and union territories ban the manufacturing and sale of gutkha and pan masala with tobacco. The Union health ministry also wrote to all state governments, directing them to follow the Supreme Court’s diktat.

WHO cautions about rising drug resistance to HIV treatment

In a report published last week, the World Health Organisation said that in six out of 11 countries surveyed in Africa, Asia and Latin America, more than 10% of those who started on antiretroviral therapy for treatment of HIV had a strain of the virus that was resistant to some of the widely used HIV medicines. The six countries are Argentina, Guatemala, Namibia, Nicaragua, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

HIV drug resistance develops when people do not adhere to a prescribed treatment plan, often because they do not have consistent access to quality treatment and care. has reported on repeated stock outs of medicines in the country that may result in drug resistance. Such patients need to be put on more antibiotics.

India has yet not undertaken an HIV drug resistance survey, which is recommended by the World Health Organisation, DNA reported.

So far, 26 countries have completed or are implementing national surveys to check drug-resistance levels among HIV patients, based on WHO’s guidance.

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