One of the worrying trends in antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is that medicines to treat diseases transmissable between animals and humans, such as campylobacteriosis and salmonellosis, are becoming less effective.
For some years, fears have grown in medicine that more and more common infections will become difficult or even sometimes impossible to treat.
If AMR continues to grow at current rates, scientists say the death toll will become higher than cancer by 2050.
It has been agreed in the EU to tackle this threat across the board, with all sectors acting together, in every country and across the public health, animal health and environment sectors, in the One Health approach.
Now, just published 2017 data has shown resistance to fluoroquinolones (such as ciprofloxacin) is so high in Campylobacter bacteria in some countries that these antimicrobials no longer work for treatment of severe cases.
Multidrug resistance (resistance to three or more antimicrobials) is high in Salmonella found in humans (28.3%) and animals, particularly for Salmonella Typhimurium.
In Campylobacter, high to extremely high proportions of bacteria were found to be resistant to ciprofloxacin and tetracyclines.
Even low proportions might mean many thousands of patients across the EU have limited treatment options for severe infections, not to mind the threat to farm animals.
The new data on multidrug resistance in animals may bring home to farmers how tough things could become in livestock farming... with farmers and vets helpless to treat sick animals.
The data collected by the ECDC and the EFSA from 28 EU Member States came from humans, and from pigs and calves under one year of age, and confirms the rise in antibiotic resistance already identified in previous years.
Hence the importance of adhering to the EU’s One Health Action Plan against Antimicrobial Resistance, and adopting prudent use of antimicrobials, essential to limiting emergence and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans and animals.
This will be easier in veterinary medicine than in human medicine, where pressure from patients is a factor causing doctors to over-prescribe antimicrobials.
When the patient is an animal, prudent use of antimicrobials is an easier choice.
Irish farmers should not deceive themselves that this is a problem just for other member states.
Tests of fattening pig carcases showed resistance in Salmonella typhimurium to ciprofloxacin was reported at a high level in Ireland.
Tests in fattening pigs for resistance in Salmonella species also showed statistically significant increasing trends for resistance to nalidixic acid in Ireland.
AMR occurs naturally, it is only by reducing misuse and overuse of antibiotics than it can be slowed.
Irish farmers and veterinary practitioners have committed to good practice in responsible prescribing and use of antibiotics in farm animals.
Responsible use of antibiotics means using “as little as possible, and as much as necessary”.
In order to use as little as possible, it is necessary to reduce disease risks, by implementing good farm management practices such as optimum ventilation, stocking densities, nutrition, hygiene, vaccination and parasite control.
Antibiotics must be used to maintain animal health and welfare only when necessary, and must be used correctly. The disease should be diagnosed by a vet who prescribes the treatment. Antibiotics should be purchased only from an authorised supplier. The instructions must be followed (correct dose, finish the course as instructed; observe the withdrawal period; correct storage and disposal).
Don’t use antibiotics of last resort as first line therapy.