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Slaughter Says Military at Risk from Superbugs

U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), chairwoman of the House Rules Committee, submitted testimony on the threat to the U.S. military posed by antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

Slaughter, who has called for limits on dispensing antibiotics to food animals, testified before the House Armed Services Committee hearing “Fighting Superbugs: DOD’s Response to Multidrug-Resistant Infections in Military Treatment Facilities.”

The hearing was called amid growing concerns about the rise in the number of antibiotic resistant pathogens and evidence that the practice of using antibiotics to promote livestock growth is contributing to the problem.

Resistant pathogens, she said, are particularly concerning to wounded U.S. military members as they are more susceptible to infections while recovering from their wounds.

“To effectively respond to the rise of multi-drug resistant Acinetobacter baumanii infections in the military, we need to develop a coordinated, comprehensive strategy to fight Acenitobacter and other antibiotic resistant pathogens in the military and in the general population,” Slaughter said in her testimony.

According to Slaughter, soldiers with combat injuries face deadly threats of multi-drug resistant (MDR) infections after they are wounded.  Between 2004 and 2009, at least 3,300 members of the military were treated for Acinetobacter infections, according to Department of Defense (DOD) statistics.  

The Congresswoman said the gram-negative bacteria is particularly dangerous because it tends to occur in strains that are resistant to almost all available antibiotics.  Many times the only line of defense against the bacteria is colistin, an antibiotic that was phased out in the 1970s due to its toxicity.

In 2009, the U.S. Army established a surveillance system to respond to the threat posed by Acinetobacter.  The program, called the Multi-resistant Organism Repository and Surveillance Network, works in tandem with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Healthcare Safety Network reporting system.  

Slaughter commended the military and the Department of Defense for their efforts in trying to prevent the spread of MDRs but made several  recommendations for further preventative steps.  Her recommendations for the Department of Defense include:

1. Requiring additional training at all military facilities on hygiene and other treatment and control techniques to reduce the spread of antibiotic resistant infections. Peer-reviewed infection reduction techniques — such as those pioneered by Peter Pronovost — have been shown to produce a 66 percent reduction in infections 18 months after adoption.

2. Expanding a comprehensive surveillance system, such as the Multi-Resistant Organism Repository and Surveillance Network, to all branches of the military.


3. Fully implementing the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network reporting system in military facilities.

4.  Establishing a coordinated, comprehensive DOD research program on the causes of antibiotic resistance in all sectors, including agricultural usage and human usage.  

Slaughter also cited figures about the general public and antibiotic resistance.  “Every year, almost two million Americans acquire bacterial infections during their hospital stay, and 90,000 will die from them.  70 percent of hospital-acquired infections are resistant to at least one antibiotic.”   She estimated the cost of antibiotic resistance to society at over $35 billion nationwide.

In her statement, Slaughter encouraged medical personnel, public health officials and farmers to collaborate on a comprehensive, evidence-based strategy to strengthen the public health response to MDR bacteria by:

1.  Establishing a high-level Interagency Working Group to enhance the national strategy to prevent antibiotic resistant infections;

2.  Increasing monitoring and surveillance of  Acinetobacter baumannii at the local, state, and national level;

3.  Encouraging new initiatives established by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) to prioritize MDR pathogens, such as Section 3508’s program to incorporate patient safety training into health professional education; and

4.  Supporting H.R. 1549, the Preservation of Antibiotics in Medical Treatment Act she has sponsored that will phase out the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock farming.

In 2009, Slaughter introduced the legislation, which would limit the use of antibiotics in farm animals in order to ensure that antibiotics remain effective for the treatment of human diseases.

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