By the way, doctor: Are the antibiotics in poultry dangerous?

Q. Some brands of fresh chicken claim to be healthier because they're antibiotic-free. Are the antibiotics in chicken unsafe to eat? What are they for?

A. It's not the antibiotics that are harmful; it's the resistant bacteria created by their use in poultry. People who ingest these bacteria can develop infections that are resistant — that is, they won't respond — to the antibiotics doctors commonly use to treat them. Such infections can be particularly dangerous to people with compromised immune systems, such as the frail elderly, people with HIV/AIDS, or those being treated for cancer or chronic inflammatory conditions.

Concern has centered on poultry infected with Campylobacter bacteria, which don't normally affect birds, but can cause fever and diarrhea in humans. Campylobacter infection is usually treatable with fluoroquinolones, a family of antibiotics that includes Cipro and Levaquin. The problem is that farmers have been using fluoroquinolones to prevent Escherichia coli (E. coli) infection in chickens and turkeys.

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