NIAA speaker: Stop pointing fingers, start finding solutions for antibiotic resistance
Steve Solomon is a specially trained doctor who has spent a career investigating some of the globe’s most pressing infectious diseases. During the past 35 years, he spent time at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta — first as part of the Epidemic Intelligence Service, then later as head of the government’s campaign to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
These days, he helps private industry work to solve what he believes is one of our greatest threats, often with help from an unlikely partner: agriculture.
“This is a massive, massive problem, and if we’re too siloed, if doctors are only talking to other human doctors, if veterinarians are only talking to veterinarians if people in environmental science are only talking to other environmental scientists we cannot solve this problem,” Solomon says. “We need human medical doctors talking to veterinarians. We need people in pharmaceutical industry working much more closely with people in agriculture.”
Antibiotic resistance has grown in complexity for both human and animal medicine since Solomon first began working on this problem at CDC in the early 1980s. By the time he took the helm of its antimicrobial resistance office three decades later, the world had changed.
“The number of new antibiotics coming along had essentially dried up. There were more people in the world, they were getting a lot more antibiotics,” he explains. “All around the world people were coming out of poverty in lower and lower middle-income countries. They want access to health care. They want access to antibiotics. The other thing they want is access to a more varied diet, and one of the things that they’re interested in getting is more animal protein.”
Solomon says he began to see the issue in a much broader perspective.
“People traveled around the world with such speed. You could get on a plane in one part of the world and be on the other side of the world in a matter of hours and people were carrying bacteria. You had more people taking antibiotics, you had more animals, and you had more animals taking antibiotics,” he says. “That intense pressure was causing this explosion of interest in antibiotic resistance because people were seeing more of it.”
There have been recent gains in research and diagnostic tools to help doctors and veterinarians better prescribe antibiotics. But much work remains, Solomon says, and finger-pointing between human and animal health communities only works to confuse the issue.
“We have an extraordinarily complex problem that encompasses the entire world. It encompasses every human being in the world. It encompasses every animal in the world, not just companion animals and farm animals but wildlife,” Solomon notes. “My concern is that for all the good things we’re doing, and all the progress we’ve made, especially in the last 5-6 years, we are not getting ahead of the problem, that the problem is growing faster than we’re responding to it, and that our response is still, by virtue of human nature, somewhat siloed.”
A One Health solution that incorporates human, animal and environmental factions is the only viable option to solving such a complex problem, he says. That’s why the National Institute for Animal Agriculture invites farmers and ranchers to collaborate with those like Solomon, during its 8th annual Antibiotic Symposium. It takes place next week, Nov. 13-15 in Overland Park, Kan.
“As we go forward over the next 10 to 15 years, there’s a real risk of getting to a point where there are going to be a lot of infections that we can’t treat with any antibiotic,” he cautions. “That’s why we need to act rapidly. We need to act collaboratively and we need to overcome whatever resistance we have to working together. Our resistance to collaboration is fueling the success of resistant bacteria, and we’ve got to get past it.”
Register for the conference today at animalagriculture.org.