FDA warns online pet vendors including Chewy for selling unapproved and misbranded drugs

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning nine online pet vendors, including popular retailer Chewy, not to carry illegally sold over-the-counter antibacterial drugs, including antibiotics like penicillin, that can make infections more dangerous for humans.

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The FDA has targeted nine pet suppliers for selling unapproved antibacterial drugs, primarily for ornamental fish and birds, that use drugs also used in human medicine, including amoxicillin, penicillin, tetracycline and erythromycin.

Public health experts say the overuse of antibacterial drugs has led to an increase in drug-resistant infections as bacteria and other microorganisms become more resistant to the drugs.

In addition to Chewy, the other eight pet suppliers named by the FDA are: American Aquarium Products, Aquanest Biotic, Aquarium Pharmacy LLC, California Veterinary Supply, Kraft Drug, Midland Veterinary Services LLC, Silver Lease LLC, and Valley Veterinary Clinic LTD.

Suppliers have 15 days to respond to the agency with plans to eliminate the risk of antimicrobial lawsuits and product seizures.

Chewy and three other suppliers have not responded to Forbes’ requests for comment.

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Doctors use antibacterial drugs every day to treat infections caused by bacteria, algae, and other microorganisms. However, researchers worry that overuse of these drugs can lead to microbial resistance, which occurs when microorganisms develop immunity to these drugs. The FDA says resistance increases when antibiotics are overused or used inappropriately. This occurs when animals and humans use these drugs at the same time. The World Health Organization estimates that antimicrobial-resistant pathogens killed 1.27 million people in 2019 and caused another 4.95 million deaths.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are approximately 2.8 million cases of antimicrobial-resistant infections in the United States each year. The agency determined in a threat report that these cases resulted in 35,000 deaths in 2019.

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According to the CDC, the threat of antimicrobial-resistant pathogens affects not only humans but also animals and crops. Bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics can also share the ability to develop resistance with other bacteria that have not been exposed to antibiotics, the agency said. However, the American Veterinary Medical Association says the relationship between antimicrobial use in animals and antimicrobial resistance is unclear. The organization said antimicrobial resistance is more common in human pathogens that spread from person to person rather than in foodborne illnesses or other pathogens that can be traced to animals. The group advocates the continued use of antimicrobials in animals, which they call an important part of the veterinary toolkit.

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The FDA also warns that humans may use some antimicrobial drugs sold online for pets. Sales of the antibacterial drug ivermectin, used to treat parasites such as heartworm in animals, surged in 2021 following an online disinformation campaign. Right-wing politicians like Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert and popular podcast host Joe Rogan have promoted the drug as a possible treatment for COVID-19. Sales of the 40-year-old drug have surged, with some patients turning to veterinary suppliers and farm shops in search of it. Later studies confirmed that ivermectin had no effect on COVID-19, and the drug was only approved to treat lice, parasites, and skin diseases such as rosacea in humans. The FDA warns against administering antimicrobials to animals, which may delay effective treatment, make infections more severe and/or develop resistance to the antimicrobials.

further reading

More from ForbesWorld Health Organization warns that antimicrobial resistance is ‘the world’s biggest public health threat’More from ForbesA new tool may help reduce the burden of antibiotic-resistant infectionsMore from ForbesAntibiotic resistance killed 1.2 million people in 2019, leading cause of death, study finds

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