To the editor: 

The outbreak of swine flu has spurred discussions about where these kinds of deadly bugs come from in our state and across the country.

 Sadly, one possibility may be found right here at home, on Indiana's industrial farms - also known as confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) - that are sprinkled all over the Hoosier state.

As doctors, we warn our patients never to take antibiotics if they are not actually sick. Yet that is exactly what is happening on CAFOs where animals are given low doses of human antibiotics over long periods of time to speed growth and to compensate for unsanitary and crowded conditions.  The overuse of antibiotics is causing these life-saving drugs to no longer work.

As a result, new deadly strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria develop in the animals and can transfer to people through contact with the animals, eating and handling the meat, eating food grown in contaminated manure, or drinking water polluted by farm runoff.

 Last year, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production reported that the overuse of antibiotics was creating drug-resistant infections.  Today, legislation in Congress, based on the Pew Commission's recommendations, would address this serious health issue.  It's called the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), and it would phase out the use of human medicines in livestock, except when needed to treat sick animals.

 The American Academy of Family Physicians, representing 94,000 doctors across the country, is on board with this legislation, and I am hopeful that our entire Congressional delegation joins in the fight to keep antibiotics working, too.  To learn more about the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, please go to www.saveantibiotics.org. 

Dr. Stephen Jay

Professor of Medicine and Public Health

Indiana University School of Medicine