PULLMAN, Wash. - Americans use too many antibiotics to treat both humans and farm animals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The goal of its "Get Smart About Antibiotics" campaign, launched this week, is to inform people of the risks of overuse of these important medications - which experts say is making harmful bacteria more resistant to them.
Dr. Lauri Hicks, medical director for the CDC project, says there is a new sense of urgency because resistant bacteria are spreading rapidly.
"And what happens is now, common infections may be difficult to treat. When you really need an antibiotic, it may not work."
The Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming estimates 70 percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States are used to help farm animals grow faster and stay healthy in crowded conditions, and says controlling agricultural use is key to solving the problem.
Washington doesn't have state laws about farm use of antibiotics, but it's ahead of the curve on this issue, with an Agricultural Antibiotic Stewardship Project. Dr. Dale Moore, director of the Washington State University veterinary medical extension, says the research results have been given to every dairy farm in the state.
"They identified some of the risky practices and some of the practices they were doing that were good, and they published that. And then, they developed a set of tools and tested them on some collaborator farms. So, this was a proactive approach to looking at antibiotics."
Those who support using antibiotics in food animal production claim there's no proof that antibiotic-resistant bacteria come from animals.
Dr. Moore says the larger the farm, the more training is necessary to ensure that proper medications and amounts are used for medical reasons. She says she supports the CDC's multi-pronged approach to ramp down the use of antibiotics, both on and off the farm.
"It's a really complex issue and there's not one single strategy that's going to address it. They're trying to talk to physicians and pharmacists, as well as farmers and veterinarians, to look at what might be judicious or prudent use of drugs on the farm."