Even birds that have never spent time on a factory chicken farm, where they'd be pumped up with antibiotics, show signs that they are infected with drug-resistant strains of the potentially deadly E. coli bacteria, according to Newsday.
Bacteria evolve resistance to even the strongest human antibiotics because the drugs are used extensively on factory farms. Keeping animals in close proximity allows for the easy spread of disease, and farmers often treat fowl and other farm animals prophylactically. Because bacteria go through multiple generations quickly, the chance for genetic mutation that leads to drug resistance is high even inevitable, given enough time.
Drug-resistant bacteria is a concern not only on farms, but for humans. If a person is infected, even strong drugs used in hospitals may not effectively treat the infection.
Antibiotic resistance is only one concern about the way in which modern food is commonly produced. The findings by Swedish researchers that even wild birds in the Arctic harbor drug-resistant bacteria is a sign that the concerns are well founded.
The birds apparently acquire the bacteria interacting with domestic flocks, and then transport it around the world during transcontinental migrations. Similarly, avian influenza, or bird flu, is transported around the world in wild flocks, but scientists fear domestic flocks will provide the conditions necessary for a genetic mutation that makes human-to-human transmission of the deadly virus more likely.
The field of conservation medicine was developed to study such diseases that originate in wildlife, but are spread to humans because of environmental conditions. Other examples include Lyme disease and Hantavirus.
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