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Quantifying Potential Human Health Impacts of Animal Antibiotic Use: Enrofloxacin and Macrolides in Chickens


* Address correspondence to Louis Anthony (Tony) Cox, Jr., Cox Associates, 503 Franklin Street, Denver, CO 80218-3623, USA; tel: 303-388-1778; fax: 303-388-0609;


Use of similar or identical antibiotics in both human and veterinary medicine has come under increasing scrutiny by regulators concerned that bacteria resistant to animal antibiotics will infect people and resist treatment with similar human antibiotics, leading to excess illnesses and deaths. Scientists, regulators, and interest groups in the United States and Europe have urged bans on nontherapeutic and some therapeutic uses of animal antibiotics to protect human health. Many regulators and public health experts have also expressed dissatisfaction with the perceived limitations of quantitative risk assessment and have proposed alternative qualitative and judgmental approaches ranging from “attributable fraction” estimates to risk management recommendations based on the precautionary principle or on expert judgments about the importance of classes of compounds in human medicine. This article presents a more traditional quantitative risk assessment of the likely human health impacts of continuing versus withdrawing use of fluoroquinolones and macrolides in production of broiler chickens in the United States. An analytic framework is developed and applied to available data. It indicates that withdrawing animal antibiotics can cause far more human illness-days than it would prevent: the estimated human BENEFIT:RISK health ratio for human health impacts of continued animal antibiotic use exceeds 1,000:1 in many cases. This conclusion is driven by a hypothesized causal sequence in which withdrawing animal antibiotic use increases illnesses rates in animals, microbial loads in servings from the affected animals, and hence human health risks. This potentially important aspect of human health risk assessment for animal antibiotics has not previously been quantified.