Campylobacter isolates with antimicrobial resistance have been found on whole fresh chickens sold at retail in the United Kingdom, according to a survey by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

The survey tested a subset of Campylobacter isolates from the U.K. retail chicken survey. Analysis between August 2016 and July 2017 looked at 585 Campylobacter isolates from samples of whole, U.K.-produced, fresh chicken. A total of 489 were Campylobacter jejuni and 96 were Campylobacter coli isolates.

The proportions of antimicrobial resistant (AMR) Campylobacter isolates detected were similar to levels found in the previous survey year from July 2015 to July 2016. The proportion of ciprofloxacin- and tetracycline-resistant Campylobacter jejuni was significantly lower than the last survey.

Paul Cook, FSA’s science lead in microbiological risk assessment, said the survey allows monitoring of AMR Campylobacter in retail chickens over time.

“While there is evidence that AMR Campylobacter is present on whole fresh chickens sold at retail in the U.K., the risk of getting AMR-related infections through eating or preparing contaminated meat remains very low as long as you follow good hygiene and cooking practices.”

Erythromycin (Ery), Ciprofloxacin (Cp), Tetracycline (Tet), Gentamicin (G), Nalidixic acid (Nal), Streptomycin (S)

The study found that (fluoro)quinolone (ciprofloxacin and nalidixic acid) and tetracycline-resistance was common in campylobacters isolated from chicken meat.

Ciprofloxacin resistance was identified in 201 of the Campylobacter jejuni isolates and 50 Campylobacter coli isolates. It was found in 237 of 437 Campylobacter jejuni isolates and 52 of 108 Campylobacter coli isolates in the last survey.

Only two Campylobacter jejuni and no Campylobacter coli isolates were resistant to erythromycin in the 2016-2017 survey.

Of all Campylobacter isolates tested, 55 percent were resistant to tetracycline and 3 percent to streptomycin, but all were sensitive to gentamicin. In the previous survey, just over three quarters of isolates were resistant to tetracycline but all those tested were sensitive to gentamicin.

Multi-drug resistance, defined as resistance to three or more unrelated antimicrobial classes, was found in nine Campylobacter coli isolates and eight Campylobacter jejuni ones in the latest survey.

A higher proportion of Campylobacter coli isolates showed multi-drug resistance compared to Campylobacter jejuni isolates. This was also seen in the 2015-16 survey year, where 6.7 percent and 1.6 percent of Campylobacter coli and Campylobacter jejuni, respectively were multi-drug resistant.

The amount of fluoroquinolone resistant isolates were similar to the two previous years but higher compared to past data.

“Given the high percentage of isolates that are resistant to fluoroquinolones, and the assessment that a large proportion of human campylobacter infections probably relate to handling, preparation and consumption of chicken meat, this raises concern about the availability of effective antimicrobial agents for the treatment of severe human campylobacter infections,” according to the FSA.

There were no differences in ciprofloxacin and tetracycline resistance for isolates from standard and free-range birds within Campylobacter jejuni isolates but a higher proportion of Campylobacter coli isolates from free-range chickens were resistant, compared to isolates from standard chickens.

No significant differences were found in levels of ciprofloxacin and tetracycline resistance in isolates from standard and organic birds, however the small sample size for organic chickens, may have limited ability to detect differences should they exist.

A European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and European Food Safety Authority report, published after the FSA survey, found antimicrobials used to treat diseases such as campylobacteriosis are becoming less effective.

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