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Superbugs: How India is Creating Next Pandemic in Poultry Farming

Indian poultry farming could become the breeding ground of the next pandemic after Covid-19. Farmers constantly inject chickens with antibiotic Colistin. WHO fears this will create antimicrobial resistance.

Shipra Singh

It’s a common scenario in poultry farms of India: clusters of chicks loiter in a cramped space. They peck on each other and feed from trays placed in corners. The farm space is unhygienic and often stinks.  

The biggest problem in a poultry farm in India is to keep chicks healthy and even alive amidst the unhygienic conditions. Most people do not actually know how to start a poultry farm and start anyway.  

The solution? 

Well, poultry farmers have found a seemingly-great solution in antibiotic Colistin. They inject this antibiotic in chickens to keep them free of diseases and gain weight. Plump chickens fetch higher prices of course.  

So, where’s the problem? 

According to doctors, we eat these injected chickens. The antibiotic passes into our bodies unnecessarily. 

Another thing: The World Health Organization (WHO) has asked to restrict the use of these antibiotics in animals because they are “critically important to human medicines.” They have also been banned for use as growth promoters.  


What’s the reason? 

The reason, as cited by WHO, is that their continued use increases risk of developing resistance in bacteria towards these antibiotics. If this happens, the antibiotics will become useless for treatment.   

A well-known professor in Cardiff University’s Medical Microbiology says that the way Indian poultry farmers use Colistin is “deeply worrying.” He has described the rampant use of this antibiotic in poultry as “complete and utter madness.” 

In 2015, he and his team consisting of Chinese colleagues already detected a colistin-resistant gene, mcr-1, in pigs of China. The alarming thing is that this gene can be easily transferred within bacteria species.  

What does this mean? 

This means that bacteria may not develop resistance on their own, but once they acquire the gene, which is readily transferrable, they can become resistant!  

Is this the ‘blueprint’ of the next pandemic? 

There is already panic across the globe in the medical world. According to medical experts, it is easy to pass resistance to bugs that are already resistant to a variety of drugs. This has led to many infections not being treated by even strong doses of antibiotics.  

As per researchers, the rampant use of antibiotics in poultry farming can become one of the major contributors to the spread of mcr-1 gene.  

In over 30 countries sprawled in four continents, the gene is already been found present in bacteria taken from animals and humans. Experts have also detected a batch of other four genes – mcr-2, mcr-3, mcr-4, and mcr-5.  

This clearly implies that colistin-resistant bacteria, which was once a rare occurrence, has now finally arrived and just waiting for the right moment to attack humankind mercilessly.  

This is unfortunate, especially at a time when innovations like artificial intelligence in poultry farms is a reality.  

Imagine the world where you will get an infection and there will be no medicine effective enough to treat it! 

After Covid-19 pandemic, the next pandemic is in the making. Sadly, this time it is in our very own country, India.  

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