Chickens for sale in five key kitchen markets in Dhaka are showing alarming levels of superbugs resistant to some of the strongest antibiotics, found a new research published in Nature Journal on 25 June.
The results are concerning because resistance to antibiotics among livestock can easily affect resistance among humans, rendering vital medicines ineffective against serious diseases, according to public health experts.
Pathogens the researchers found are – E. coli, Salmonella spp and S. aureus – which cause acute diarrhoeal diseases and skin infections.
The research team of the Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU), who tested 500 chickens from the markets, reported the resistance ranging from around 93% to 100%.
They also found the resistance ranging 80% to 100% in sewage samples of the markets.
"The presence of multi-drug resistant bacteria in chickens poses a serious threat to public health," Md Taohidul Islam, the lead researcher and also a professor at BAU, told The Business Standard.
"If the chicken dishes are not cooked properly, the bacteria could land in our stomach and make us sick with the drugs less effective or ineffective against the pathogens," he noted.
Sonia Parvin, researcher of the study and associate professor, Population Medicine and AMR Laboratory, Bangladesh Agricultural University told TBS, "We have tested samples collected from five kitchen markets in Dhaka and found MDR in chickens. The situation of other places may not be different from this. To reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance, it is necessary to stop selling antibiotics from pharmacies without a prescription."
All five wholesale chicken markets – Karwan Bazar Kitchen Market, Mohakhali Kacha Bazar, Mirpur-1 Kacha Bazar, Gulistan Kaptan Bazar and Mohakhali Kacha Bazar – source the chickens from different districts.
According to the research, each of the markets sells around 5,000–10,000 chickens per day – mainly to retail markets, super shops, hotels, restaurants, and community centers throughout Dhaka.
Liquid wastes such as blood, waste water mixed with droppings were washed out and drained into nearby Buriganga River, which flows past the southwest outskirts of the capital city Dhaka.
Solid wastes such as poultry plumes and leftover feed were eventually disposed into the city corporation dustbin close to the road. In Karwan Bazar, the solid wastes were sold to fish farmers, mentions the research.
Referring to the resistance in the sewage water, Taohidul Islam said this is how the multi-drug resistant bacteria are making inroads into the food chain.
Many life-saving drugs and antibiotics are becoming ineffective thanks to unnecessary usages and overdoses. As many as 67% of the available and widely used antibiotics are not working properly in the human body, according to the health directorate report in May.
For the growing presence of antibiotic resistance in the food chain, Professor Sayedur Rahman, Bangladesh chapter vice-chairman of the Global Antibiotic Resistance Partnership, pointed the figure at the antibiotic overuse in livestock farming.
"Farmers use lots of antibiotics to raise the chickens quickly. These antibiotics subsequently go into the water or the soil," he added.
Professor Sayedur warned of dire consequences in the future if the misuse and overuse is not stopped.
Lead researcher Md Taohidul Islam said unnecessary antibiotics are often given to poultry birds without the prescription of a registered veterinary doctor.
He says the government should ensure that no one can use antibiotics without a prescription from a registered veterinary doctor.
Besides, the city corporation should take initiative to dispose of the sewage water of the markets separately so that it does not go into the common drainage network.
He also calls on people to cook the chickens properly before consumption.