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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 August 2005, 16:59 GMT 17:59 UK
Superbugs found in chicken survey
The chicken samples came from supermarkets, high street shops and wholesalers

Significant numbers of chickens on sale in UK shops are contaminated with superbugs, a scientific survey commissioned by BBC One's Real Story suggests.

Of the British-grown chickens analysed, over half were contaminated with multi-drug resistant E.coli which is immune to the effects of three or more antibiotics.

More than a third of the 147 samples, which included overseas and UK produced chicken, had E.coli germs resistant to the important antibiotic Trimethoprim which is used to treat bladder infections.

The Health Protection Agency scientists testing the meat also found 12 chickens had antibiotic resistant Campylobacter.

And VRE, or Vancomycin Resistant Enteroccci, were in 1 in 25 of the samples, although more tests would be needed to confirm the exact type of the bug found.

Monday, 15 August 2005

No organic chickens were used - 64 were from the UK and 83 from abroad.

The survey's results could partly explain a rise in the number of women whose bladder infections did not respond to standard treatments, a medical expert told the programme.

Dr Mike Millar, the head of Infection Control at St Barts Hospital in London, said: "Potentially this is very worrying.

"We've known for years there've been outbreaks of bladder infections in different parts of the world but we haven't really known where the germs have been coming from.

"Potentially food could be a source."

In worst cases, bladder infections could lead to kidney damage and the need for renal dialysis, he said.

Anna Sawkins, who suffered from recurrent bladder infections caused by E.coli, told Real Story how she "went back to the doctors hundreds of times and nothing was getting any better".

According to the latest figures, British animals consume 15 tonnes of Trimethoprim a year.

However, the Health Protection Agency says the main reason E.coli has become resistant to the drugs we use to treat bladder infections is the high use of antibiotics in humans.


The World Health Organisation has named antibiotic resistance as one of three major threats for the future.

Responding to the Real Story survey, leading WHO scientist Stuart Levy said: "Attention should be given to how antibiotics are used in animals so as to better treat them - but also to protect the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria from the farms into the cities and into the people."

Bacteria in chicken is killed if the meat is cooked properly and hygienically but one in three people in the UK get food poisoning each year - and the most common cause of food poisoning is the bug Campylobacter.

Dr Caroline Willis, who led the team testing the chickens, said: "In terms of antibiotic resistance, about a quarter of the Campylobacters that we found were resistant to one or other of the antibiotics commonly used to treat it."

There's overwhelming evidence that the main reason for antibiotic resistance in humans is because of the antibiotics prescribed for us rather than animals
British Poultry Council
With regards to the VRE found in the samples, the Health Protection Agency recognised the problem but pointed out that although VRE in chickens can lead to VRE in the human gut, it mainly only affects people already ill in hospital.

The British Poultry Council disputed the validity of the survey, saying it was not detailed enough and that previous research pointed to lower levels of antibiotic resistance in chicken.

Spokesman Darren Pearson said: "There's overwhelming evidence that the main reason for antibiotic resistance in humans is because of the antibiotics prescribed for us rather than animals.

"It doesn't mean to say it's not possible for antibiotic resistance to be transferred from animals to man but I think you've got to focus on where the main concern lies."

Real Story: - BBC ONE on Monday 15 August at 1930 BST.

See how the chickens were tested

Superbugs in our food
08 Aug 05 |  Real Story
Rise in severe food poisoning
14 Nov 02 |  Health


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