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My Turn: With misuse of antibiotics, a dangerous future awaits

This 2009 photo shows piglets in a pen on a hog farm belonging to Russ Kremer in Frankenstein, Mo. Kremer, whose leg was gored by the tusk of a boar, ended up with a strep infection that two months of multiple antibiotics did nothing to heal. Finally, Kremer figured out the answer, which was flowing in the veins of the boar. The boar had been fed low doses of penicillin, which made it resistant to most antibiotics, and the drug-resistant germ passed to Kremer. The farmer was nearly killed by modern-day farming. And more and more, other Americans, many of them living far from barns and pastures, are similarly at risk.

This 2009 photo shows piglets in a pen on a hog farm belonging to Russ Kremer in Frankenstein, Mo. Kremer, whose leg was gored by the tusk of a boar, ended up with a strep infection that two months of multiple antibiotics did nothing to heal. Finally, Kremer figured out the answer, which was flowing in the veins of the boar. The boar had been fed low doses of penicillin, which made it resistant to most antibiotics, and the drug-resistant germ passed to Kremer. The farmer was nearly killed by modern-day farming. And more and more, other Americans, many of them living far from barns and pastures, are similarly at risk.

Sitting next to my parents, who met at Brown in the 1970s, I watched my brother graduate from Brown recently. In a few years, I will also be a Brown graduate.

In this setting, it’s impossible to resist thinking about the future.

With all this in mind, I’m compelled to share a recent news release from the World Health Organization with the people of New Hampshire, where my family has had a home for generations.

WHO warned that due to the overuse and misuse of antibiotics, these critical medicines are losing their effectiveness.

That is truly scary: It means that with the loss of our best defense, common illnesses and infections could become deadly.

We need to start doing all we can to stop the overuse of antibiotics, and the best first step we can take is to limit their use on factory farms.

In fact, close to 80 percent of all antibiotics in the U.S. are sold for livestock, not people. Often, these antibiotics are mixed right into the feed of healthy animals to make them grow fatter and faster. And when bacteria are exposed to these antibiotics, they develop resistance. The resulting infections can withstand even our most powerful medicine.

Already, 23,000 people die every year from antibiotic-resistant infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

President Obama should not wait another day to protect public health. He must act now to ban the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms.

(Julia Peters lives in Providence, R.I.)

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