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Thursday, 23 July, 1998, 23:10 GMT 00:10 UK
Salmonella superbug on the rise
Chickens
Feeding animals and birds with antibiotics increases the threat of salmonella
Scientists have issued a warning against a potentially lethal drug-resistant form of the food poisoning bug salmonella.

Experts from the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) say a strain of salmonella, known as Salmonella Typhimurium DT 104, has become resistant to at least four antibiotics.

They are worried that the strain, which first appeared in cattle in the late 1980s and has now spread to pigs, sheep and poultry, could become more common and more resistant to treatment.

It first appeared in the UK in 1990 and already accounts for around 15% of all salmonella cases.

In the blood

Experts are particularly worried about it entering the human bloodstream where it could lead to blood poisoning with potentially lethal consequences.

E Coli
E Coli was initially harmless, until a stronger strain developed
In most cases, salmonella affects the stomach, causing sickness, diarrhoea and pain, but rarely kills.

Statistics show that the UK has a low incidence of blood poisoning through salmonella compared with the USA where 13% of cases get into the bloodstream.

Experts say this could be because there is closer monitoring in the UK.

The E.coli bug was relatively harmless until the arrival of the 0157 strain which was responsible for the deaths of 20 people in Scotland.

Resistant

Writing in The Lancet, Dr John Threlfall of the PHLS said statistics for 1994, 1995 and 1996 showed that the incidence of DT 104 was just below that of the strain of salmonella which most commonly affects humans.

His research also found that the strain was becoming more resistant to antibiotics.

Statistics for 1997 show it is rapidly mutating and becoming resistant to more antibiotics, leaving doctors with less and less choice over which drugs to use against it.

Those most at risk are the elderly, the very young and the infirm.

Dr Threlfall blamed the overuse of antibiotics in farming for the strain's rise.

"These drugs are used legitimately for therapeutic purposes in animals, but at the same time they cause increasing resistance," he said.

"This is an example of what can happen as a result of the use of antibiotics in agriculture."

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