In a farm setting, caretakers administer antibiotics and hormones to animals to fight infections, but also for nonmedical purposes, including to make animals grow faster while simultaneously feeding them less. As a result of overexposure, animals can develop infections that drugs cannot fight, the same way humans can when they eat foods that have been contaminated by bacteria.
Bacteria can spread to other livestock in contaminated quarters, and when the animals are slaughtered for meat and delivered to supermarkets, children can become exposed by eating infected meat. Farm workers or people who visit farms can also become infected. If the infectious bacteria is drug resistant, any drugs given in a hospital or at the doctor’s office would be ineffective.
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year more than 2 million Americans become sick because of drug-resistant bacteria, and more than 23,000 of them die. For most infections, incidence is highest among children younger than 5, the academy says.