State Legislation Addressing Antibiotic Resistance

November 29, 2018|11:17 a.m.| ASTHO Staff

Earlier this month, the public health community participated in World Antibiotic Awareness Week, aimed at increasing awareness of antibiotic resistance and encouraging best practices among the public, health workers, and policy makers. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria or fungi change in response to the use of medicines and develop the ability to defeat the drugs meant to kill them. Bacteria, not humans, become antibiotic resistant. These resistant bacteria then infect humans, often requiring extended hospital stays, doctor visits, and costly and toxic treatment alternatives. According to the CDC, at least two million people each year in the United States will get an antibiotic-resistant infection, and at least 23,000 people die.

Antibiotics are also given to food animals to reduce animal disease and suffering from bacterial infections. The improper and overuse of antibiotics for food animals can impact human health. Studies have shown that antibiotic use in food animals allow antibiotic-resistant bacteria to grow; resistant bacteria can contaminate food from the animals; and resistant bacteria in food can cause infections in humans. Humans can be exposed to, and therefore become infected by, resistant bacteria from animals by handling or eating raw or undercooked foods contaminated with resistant bacteria, coming in contact with animal stool (typically via a contaminated water source), or from touching or caring for animals. To prevent antibiotic resistance, CDC recommends four core actions: preventing infections from developing and spreading, tracking and collecting data on antibiotic resistant infections, improving antibiotic prescribing practices and stewardship, and developing new antibiotics and diagnostic tests.

State health agencies are responsible for protecting patients across the healthcare system and serve as a bridge between healthcare organizations and the community. State health agencies help to address antibiotic resistance by preventing infections and protecting patients across the healthcare system (e.g., through immunization or food safety), tracking where infections are occurring and where antibiotic resistance is growing (surveillance), and promoting appropriate antibiotic prescribing and use (stewardship). State health agencies also play a key role in collaborating with other state agencies (e.g., state agriculture departments and state veterinary boards) to support appropriate antibiotic use in agriculture. Below is an overview of recent state legislative activity aimed at preventing antibiotic resistance.

Citing the link between the routine use of antibiotics on industrial farms and antibiotic resistance in humans, a bill was introduced in the Illinois legislature to allow the administration of antibiotics to food-producing animals only when prescribed by a licensed veterinarian and only if necessary to treat or control the spread of disease. The Illinois Senate also adopted a resolution urging the U.S. Congress to review existing federal laws for the disposal of unused antibiotics, pass new laws to prevent the creation of “superbugs,” and fund research into the treatment and creation of new drugs to fight antibiotic resistant “superbugs.”

The Pennsylvania legislature considered a bill to protect the health and safety of its citizens by prohibiting the use of certain antimicrobial agents in agriculture in nontherapeutic amounts or as growth promoters. The bill would also give the department of health authority to designate additional antimicrobial agents that may not be administered and promulgate regulations requiring annual reporting on the use of antimicrobial agents in animals.

The New Jersey legislature introduced a resolution expressing support for the national ban on non-therapeutic uses of antibiotics in livestock, as well as federal legislation requiring the responsible use of antibiotics in livestock.

ASTHO will continue to monitor legislative activity on this important public health topic. For more information on how state health agencies are working to address this issue, please visit ASTHO’s Antimicrobial Resistance page.

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