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Study: Some Klebsiella Pneumonia Illnesses are Foodborne

Klebsiella bacteria, which can be found in your nose and mouth, have also been found before when retail meat was sampled, and the United Kingdom’s Review on Antimicrobial Resistance has named the common bug as one expected to have increased rates of antibiotic resistance.

But Klebsiella pneumonia is not a foodborne illnesses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

meatcounter_406x250George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health is out with a study that paints a new image of the old bacteria.

With its recently formed Antibiotic Resistance Action Center, Milken Institute released a new study Thursday online in the Journal of Infectious Diseases that “shows contaminated meat may be an important source of human exposure to Klebsiella.”

The university’s Dr. Lance Price makes the argument that the nation’s top food safety agencies have a “very dogmatic view” of foodborne disease. Price says he is interested in “non-classical foodborne pathogens.” He claims the study is “the first to suggest that consumers can be exposed to potentially dangerous Klebsiella from contaminated meat.”

However, the study is not the first to find the pathogen on raw meat. In February 2014, Consumer Reports published a report entitled, “The High Cost of Cheap Chicken,” which found that 14 percent of 316 raw chicken samples were positive for Klebsiella.

Milken researchers found that 47 percent of 508 meat products purchased form nine major grocery stores in Flagstaff, AZ, were contaminated with Klebsiella, with many strains being antibiotic-resistant.

But Price’s team went beyond the usual sampling from retail meat counters to look at the records of Flagstaff-area patients with urinary tract or blood infections, using whole-genome DNA sequencing to compare Klebsiella isolated from the meat products with the patients. They found that “some” isolate pairs were nearly identical.

“As an infectious disease doctor, I have encountered Klebsiella pneumoniae in my patients,” said Dr. James R. Johnson, a co-author of the study from the University of Minnesota. “We tend to think of this organism as being one that individuals carry naturally, or acquire from the environment. This research suggests that we also can pick up these bacteria from the food we eat.”

The findings were enough for Price to call Klebsiella “another drug-resistant pathogen in the food supply, underscoring the public health concern regarding antibiotic use in food animal production.”

Funding for the study was provided by the Departments of Defense and Veteran’s Affairs.

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