Fluoroquinolone resistance in Campylobacter from retail chicken

A Food Standards Agency (FSA) survey of antibiotic resistance in Campylobacter from retail chicken has reported the results for the third year of the survey, covering the period from August 2016 to July 2017. Of particular concern is the level of resistance to the fluoroquinolone antibiotics, which are critically important in human medicine, and one of the two types of drugs-of-choice for treating human Campylobacter infections.

The FSA said that fluoroquinolone resistance, at 41% for the most common strain, was “high” compared to levels from a decade earlier, but significantly lower than the previous year when it was 54%. Scientists believe that the use of the these antibiotics in poultry has led to high levels of resistance in human Campylobacter infections and the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics has long called for their use to be banned in poultry.

The FSA said: “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.”

Cóilín Nunan of the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics said: “It's good that the FSA accepts the link between resistance to fluoroquinolone antibiotics in Campylobacter on retail chicken and resistance in human infections. But it is still only expressing "concern". It needs to put real pressure on the government to ban these critically important antibiotics from use in poultry.

In 2017, most UK chicken producers voluntarily avoided all fluoroquinolone use, and it seems this very welcome move has reduced resistance in retail chicken. But low levels of use continue in turkeys and, because of government inaction, there is nothing to stop use from increasing again in the future.

In contrast, in the US fluoroquinolone use in poultry has been banned since 2005, and they now have far less resistance in human Campylobacter infections than the UK does, despite having much higher use of the antibiotics in human medicine.

Campylobacter can be a very serious infection, so the government and its regulators are putting human health at risk through their refusal to act.”

The FSA said that a European Union report had found that “consumption of fluoroquinolones in animals was significantly associated with increased percentages of resistance to fluoroquinolones in campylobacters isolated from animals and humans”. In contrast, the EU report found no link between fluoroquinolone use in humans and resistance to the antibiotics in human Campylobacter infections.