Mothers, Farmers and Chefs Against Antibiotic Misuse

If you’ve been reading me for a while, you may remember Everly Macario and her son Simon Sparrow: I told their story in my 2010 book Superbug and blogged about them in 2011. Everly is a public health researcher in Chicago and the sister and daughter of physicians. Yet despite all her own knowledge, and all the knowledge resident in her family, she was unable to protect 17-month-old Simon from the MRSA infection that killed him in 24 hours in 2004.

Simon, as I wrote about him last year, was:

[A] big, sturdy child with no health problems except a touch of asthma. The day before he died, he woke up feverish and disoriented, startling his parents with a cry unlike anything they had heard from him before. It was a busy morning — his older sister had a stomach virus — but they got him to the pediatric ER, got him checked, and brought him home when doctors found nothing unusual going on.

A few hours later, Everly was working at home, watching both kids, and Simon’s breathing changed. Her husband James, a history professor, had driven a few hours away to give a speech. She called a friend who is a pediatrician, held the phone up to Simon’s nose and mouth so she could hear, and then got back on the line.

“Hang up,” her friend said. “Call 911.”

She did, and then she called her husband, who reversed course and began tearing back to the city. At the hospital, Simon failed rapidly: His heart raced, his blood pressure crashed, his lungs filled with fluid. His skin darkened with pinpoint hemorrhages. He died the following morning.

Simon Sparrow. Photo: Courtesy Everly Macario

After Simon’s death, Everly went to work for the MRSA Research Center at the University of Chicago, where a group led by longtime MRSA foe Dr. Robert S. Daum had identified the anomalous strain that killed him. Over a few years, though, she felt the urge to do more, and last year she became one of the faces of a campaign called Moms for Antibiotic Awareness in which women speak out about the toll that antibiotic resistance takes.

Today, Everly and a number of other women — mothers of drug-resistance victims, and mothers who themselves were  victims of resistant bugs — brought their campaign to Capitol Hill. They were joined by an important second set of advocates: farmers, food-service workers and nationally known chefs who believe, as the moms do, that the misuse of antibiotics in very large-scale agriculture is a leading cause of antibiotic resistance.

Here’s the full list of women in the coalition, and here are some of the details from their “Supermoms Against Superbugs” advocacy day (sponsored by the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming and the American Academy of Pediatrics) and their talking points.

What the moms have to say won’t be new to anyone who’s been reading here for a while. They emphasize that same things in their advocacy as I do in my reporting here:

  • Most antibiotics sold in the United States each year are used in food animals;
  • Most of the animals who receive those antibiotics are not sick, but are being fattened up, or protected from the conditions in which they are raised;
  • Most of the antibiotics used on those animals are functionally identical to drugs used in human medicine;
  • And a large body of scientific evidence draws clear links between the use of those antibiotics on farms and the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections in humans.

But what Everly and her fellow advocates bring to the fight is something much more persuasive than journalism: intimate stories of children and adults who were attacked without warning, and who struggled and died. If policy change occurs around agricultural antibiotic use — and there are some signs that it may, after decades of stalemate — it will likely be because mothers such as Everly had the courage to go public with their overwhelming pain.

Here’s a video that Everly made for the Moms campaign.




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