Chicken superbug CAN’T be treated with antibiotics: Warning as common bacteria found in half of supermarket poultry turns drug resistant
- Campylobacter is found at low levels on half of chickens sold by major stores
- The bug is responsible for an estimated 500,000 cases of illness in the UK
- More than nine per cent of one strain is resistant to three types of antibiotic
- Farmer using antibiotics to treat animals have raised levels of resistance
Superbug versions of Britain’s most common form of food poisoning have been found on fresh chicken sold in supermarkets across the country.
Campylobacter is found at low levels on more than half of the chicken sold by major retailers, which can spread to humans through handling and a failure to cook the birds thoroughly.
The bug is responsible for an estimated 500,000 cases of illness in the UK a year with most of the cases thought to be linked to contaminated food.
More worrying is the fact some strains of the bacteria have mutated to develop a resistance to antibiotic medicines used by doctors to treat severe illness.
Campylobacter is found at low levels on more than half of the chicken sold by major retailers, which can spread to humans through handling and a failure to cook the birds thoroughly
Research from the Food Standards Agency and Public Health England found 41 per cent of samples of one strain of campylobacter and 52 per cent of another had a resistance to one important antibiotic. And some 9.1 per cent of one strain of campylobacter was resistant to at least three types of antibiotic, which is also known as antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
Medical experts have warned that the emergence of superbugs that are difficult to treat with conventional antibiotics poses a huge health threat.
Common food poisoning bugs such as campylobacter, salmonella and E.coli are found on livestock farms. Their animals are often raised in factory farm conditions, where infections spread easily.
Historically, farmers have used antibiotics to treat the sick animals, but over time the bugs have mutated to survive the use of these drugs.
To make matters worse, the antibiotics used in human medicine are similar to those used in farm animals – so when someone falls ill from contaminated food, doctors struggle to find an effective treatment. The US responded to this concern by banning chicken farmers from using certain medicines.
There has been a voluntary ban by some producers in the UK since 2017 – but FSA research found campylobacter with a resistance to these antibiotics continues to be found.
Coilin Nunan, of the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, said: ‘Campylobacter can be a very serious infection so the government and its regulators are putting human health at risk through their refusal to act’
Despite this, the watchdog says Britons can protect themselves by following good hygiene and cooking practices.
Campaign groups say current measures do not go far enough. They want a legal ban on the use of drugs such as ciprofloxacin on British farms. Coilin Nunan, of the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, said: ‘Campylobacter can be a very serious infection so the government and its regulators are putting human health at risk through their refusal to act.’
The FSA’s science lead in microbiological risk assessment, Paul Cook, said: ‘Tackling AMR is a significant priority for the FSA and across UK Government. This survey allows us to monitor AMR campylobacter in retail chickens over time and overall results have remained stable.’