What is Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR)?

Antimicrobial resistance occurs when micro-organisms that cause infection (pathogens) adapt to survive treatments that would normally kill them or stop their growth. AMR has emerged as one of the leading public health threats to humans, animals and the environment.

Antimicrobial Resistance

AMR can lead to the development of micro-organisms which can no longer be treated successfully with the range of antimicrobials currently available. The term antimicrobial includes antibiotic, antiprotozoal, antiviral and antifungal medicines.  Antimicrobial drugs inhibit the growth or kill micro-organisms that cause bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitical infections and are important in managing the health of humans, animals, marine life and plants/crops for more than 60 years.     

The evolution of micro-organisms to become resistant to antimicrobials is a natural biological reaction and increased use of antimicrobials has  accelerated antimicrobial resistance. The increasing demand for antimicrobial treatments is being exacerbated by various factors such as misuse of medicines, poor infection control practices and global trade and travel.

Why should I be concerned about Antimicrobial Resistance?

Antimicrobials are used to treat disease in both humans and animals, and are essential in maintaining human health, and animal health and welfare. If antimicrobial resistance occurs in relation to a particular disease or infection, this can limit the suitable treatment options for both human and animal diseases because the antibiotic used does not kill or inhibit the bacteria causing the disease. Modern medicine benefits such as cancer treatments and surgery are reliant on effective antibiotics. Therefore, AMR is a societal issue which impacts on us all regardless of whether we are food producers or keep animals as pet.  Increased mortality, or prolonged recovery times as well as the economic cost to healthcare systems and productivity losses affect all members of society.

In relation to the treatment of animal disease, if antibiotics are losing their efficacy this compromises the availability of suitable medicines that farmers and pet owners can avail of to ensure their animals health and welfare, as well as an increased financial cost to the animal owner.

In response to the rising concerns of AMR, pharmaceutical companies have started to research and develop new antimicrobials, but this process will take time and the extent and effectiveness of these new antimicrobials is still uncertain.

What can I do to address the development and spread of Antimicrobial Resistance?

Improve animal health

The first step to address the challenge of AMR is to improve the overall health status of the animals thereby reducing the need for antimicrobials

  1. Develop a herd health plan in conjunction with your veterinary practitioner - put it into action and review at least annually.
  2. Implement a vaccination policy as per herd health plan.
  3. Focus on disease prevention strategies, including farm biosecurity.
  4. Develop standard operating procedures for each specific disease and for the medications to be administered, in conjunction with your veterinary practitioner 
  5. Record all medications given (legal requirement) and reasons for administration - analyse this data to see where improvements can be made (consider possibility of benchmarking antibiotic use).

Prudent use of antibiotics

Everyone with responsibility for animals has a role to play in helping to reduce AMR.  Sick animals need to be treated – antibiotics should be administered if harmful bacteria are deemed to be the causative organism – the right antibiotic given in the right quantity for the right number of doses by the right route of administration, adhering to the correct withdrawal periods.

The mantra, ‘as little as possible, but as much as necessary’ is a very useful strapline to practice as far as antibiotic use is concerned. The focus should be on reducing the need for antibiotics through the reduction of outbreaks of disease, but if disease occurs that is attributable to harmful bacteria, antibiotics should be administered as per veterinary protocol, to ensure the health and welfare of the animal(s) involved. 

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