New Delhi, Aug. 11: Much like other patients across India, poultry scientist Ram Pratap Singh will never know how and where he caught a typhoid bug resistant to 18 of 21 antibiotics tested on it.
Singh, who loves eggs and chicken, has spent the past two years tracking antibiotic resistance on poultry farms in northern India. He suspects he picked up the infection from his work or a meal.
“All it might take is a poorly cooked egg or chicken, or even utensils coming into contact with raw chicken, for the germs to move into humans,” said Singh, a scientist with the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History, Coimbatore.
Scientists like Singh and public health experts are worried that antibiotics continue to be abused across India’s livestock and poultry farms over two years after a government task force had flagged the problem.
Earlier this month, an international team warned that the number of avoidable deaths potentially caused by microbes resistant to third-generation antibiotics used in farm animals is “staggering”. The experts, writing in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, estimated that about 1,500 people die from such microbes in Europe.
While there is mounting evidence of drug-resistant microbes in poultry and livestock in India, experts say their impact on humans remains unknown.
“There is very little information on even who uses antibiotics on farms for what specific conditions or how much antibiotics are used,” said Manish Kakkar, a microbiologist at the Delhi-based Public Health Foundation of India.
This year, Singh, working with scientists at the Central Avian Research Institute at Izatnagar in Uttar Pradesh, reported finding that 3 per cent of 720 poultry samples — eggs, feed, water and faeces — contained salmonella, dominated by a strain that causes typhoid. All the strains were resistant to clindamycin, oxacillin, penicillin and vancomycin.
“Some of these microbes could cause life-threatening infections in humans,” said Indranil Samanta, a veterinary microbiologist at the West Bengal University for Animal and Fisheries Sciences, Calcutta.
Samanta and his colleagues had this year reported finding in buffalo dung samples, collected from seven Bengal districts, an organism called shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC), implicated in bloody diarrhoea and life-threatening acute kidney failure in humans. The strains were resistant to five antibiotics.