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Every week brings a new story about the Ebola virus, with the most recent concerning a worrying lapse in lab protocol. Yet a more widespread, long-term public health crisis exists.
In the past 38 years, there have been two Ebola-related deaths in the U.S., but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that antibiotic-resistant bacteria cause at least 2 million infections and 23,000 deaths each year.
Seventy percent of antibiotics in the United States are given to animals, many of them perfectly healthy. The drugs are added to feed in order to make animals grow faster, or to prevent disease caused by crowded, unsanitary conditions. An alarming consequence of this overuse is the spread of resistant bacteria that can make their way to humans through contaminated food, air, water and soil.
In February, a federal task force will present President Obama with a five-year plan for slowing the scourge of antibiotic resistance. For antibiotics to remain a pillar of medicine, an effective tool to treat ear infections, pneumonia and much more, the plan must recommend that antibiotics not be used on healthy animals. Anything less is not enough.
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