Overuse of antibiotics in livestock is linked to growing drug resistance in humans who consume the agricultural products, said Su Ih-jen (蘇益仁), director of the National Health Research Institutes’ National Institute of Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology, who called for more government attention on the matter.
Su made the remarks at an international seminar on infection control held on Saturday in Taipei by the Infection Control Society of Taiwan.
Su said that infection control involves reining in the use of both antibiotics for human use and those for animal use. While the hospitals in the nation have been putting great efforts into infection control, antibiotic use on farms continues to affect human health, because the amount of antibiotics used in agriculture is eight times greater than that for medical use, he said.
Taking Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) as an example, which is a bacterium that is resistant to certain antibiotics, Su said that despite some hospitals having done their part for infection control, the resistance rate of MRSA in general is still as high as 70 percent.
According to Centers for Disease Control data, the MRSA resistance rate in the US ranges from 34 percent to 58 percent, while it is 26 percent to 28 percent in the EU and 35 percent to 38 percent in Latin America.
Su lauded Cathay General Hospital’s work in controlling the MRSA resistance rate, which is the lowest in the nation at 50 percent.
The reason the hospital can achieve this relatively better outcome lies in its executive having control over dealing with pharmaceutical companies, who often have special relationships with infectious disease specialists in the country, he said.
Many of the hospitals exhibiting the worst infection control outcomes are in Miaoli, Greater Taichung, Changhua and Greater Tainan, where physicians have close ties with pharmaceutical companies and frequently prescribe last-line antibiotics, Su said. He added that the prescription of last-line antibiotics leads to the emergence of antibiotic resistance, necessitating stronger drugs, resulting in a vicious circle.
Antibiotics used in agriculture contribute to drug resistance in humans as well, he said. For instance, antibiotics in fish increase drug resistance in humans if the fish is cooked and eaten.
Su said that to be well managed and consistent, policy on the use of antibiotics should in the hands of the Executive Yuan.
Hospitals, agriculture sectors and communities must also cooperate for effective infection control, Su added.