Antibiotics Found to Aid Reduction of <em>E. coli</em> in Swine

A study conducted by Nancy Cornick, associate professor of veterinary microbiology at Iowa State University, examines the usage of three antibiotics - tylosin, chlorotetracycline and bacitracin methylene disalicylate.
calendar icon 24 February 2010
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Nancy Cornick

Animal producers know that the current trend is to discourage the continued use of antibiotics in livestock. But recent Food Safety Consortium-supported research at Iowa State University shows that antibiotics may be helpful in reducing the pathogen E. coli O157:H7 among swine.

Nancy Cornick, the ISU associate professor of veterinary microbiology who conducted the study, noted a 2001 survey that showed 80 per cent of producers treated their swine with antibiotics, mostly for disease prevention and growth promotion. In her study, Professor Cornick examined the usage of three particular antibiotics – tylosin, chlorotetracycline and bacitracin methylene disalicylate — that are generally used at dosages to encourage growth promotion.

Professor Cornick’s project showed that the pigs that were fed the diet supplemented with chlorotetracycline and tylosin shed significantly less E. coli O157:H7 than did pigs that were fed antibiotic-free diets.

She said: “The antibiotics I chose were the ones that were most commonly added at subtherapeutic doses, which is what they’re usually looking for with growth promotion.”

Professor Cornick noted that many veterinarians favour an end to administering subtherapeutic antibiotics because they are not used for disease treatment or disease prevention. The problem, she explained, is that incidents of disease in swine may increase when producers stop using the subtherapeutic antibiotics.

The problem is that incidents of disease in swine may increase when producers stop using the subtherapeutic antibiotics.

E. coli O157:H7 is well known as a significant cause of foodborne illness in meat that comes from cattle, but the pathogen is not as prevalent in swine. Studies in recent years have found reports linking pork products to outbreaks of human disease caused by E. coli O157:H7. Professor Cornick acknowledged that such incidents are rare, but the potential problem is worth keeping on food producers’ radar.

Professor Cornick pointed to the case of feral pigs in California that were suspected along with cattle of contributing to E. coli O157:H7 contamination in a vegetable field in the Salinas Valley in 2006.

She explained: “I would argue that those feral pigs were probably exposed to fewer antibiotics than conventionally raised swine. That may be a reason that they were colonised by the E. coli O157:H7.”

Even without E. coli O157:H7 being a widespread occurrence in pigs, Professor Cornick believes the potential makes it a problem worth investigating. With low level faecal shedding, the pigs can transmit the pathogen between themselves. If usage of antibiotics drops off, Professor Cornick wonders if there would be a corresponding increase of E. coli O157:H7.

She concluded: “Maybe there would be or if I can find another reason why E. coli O157:H7 isn’t in swine, then maybe that’s something cattle producers can use as a management strategy.”

February 2010
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