What is antimicrobial resistance?
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is the ability of microorganisms (like bacteria, viruses and parasites) to stop an antimicrobial (such as antibiotics, antivirals and antimalarials) from working against them. As a result, standard medical treatments become ineffective and infections persist and may spread to others.
Infections in animals can result in the spread of resistant bacteria both to other animals and people who come into contact with them.
What has caused antimicrobial resistance?
The global unrestrained used of antibiotics has been the single most powerful contributer to the increase in antimicrobial resistance. This includes:
- underuse of antibiotics
- overuse of antibiotics
- misuse of antibiotics.
in both human and animal health (food animals and domestic pets) and in agriculture. Test your understanding of how antibiotic resistance occurs with the World Health Organisation antibiotics awareness quiz.
Why is antimicrobial resistance a problem?
Australia is fortunate that our extensive livestock production systems, comparably low use of antimicrobials, strict biosecurity measures and regulatory control of veterinary chemicals have contributed to a low antimicrobial risk status in food-producing animals.
Applying the European population corrected sales usage (PCU) system, Australia uses about 15 milligrams/PCU per year for food animals, while in 2012, the median usage in European Union and European Economic Area countries was a median 62mg/PCU.
Antimicrobial resistance infections in livestock result in reduced animal health, welfare, biosecurity and production outcomes. There is an increasing urgency to preserve antimicrobial efficiency not just in human health but also in livestock to ensure food production keeps pace with population growth and the demand for protein around the world. As momentum builds for the prevention and containment of antimicrobial resistance in humans and animals, there will be increasing pressure on veterinarians and livestock owners to demonstrate responsible chemical usage.
What is being done to address antimicrobial resistance?
The Australian Goverment has released the first National Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy to guide the response to the threat of antibiotic misuse and resistance.
The strategy was developed in partnership with industry and government, and will guide the action by governments, health professionals, veterinarians, farmers and communities to reduce the emergence of resistant bacteria.
The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) is seeking to amend the Veterinary Chemical Control and Animal Feeding Stuffs Act 1976 and associated regulations to harmonise with other jurisdictions and ensure national consistency.
What can veterinarians do to address antimicrobial resistance?
Veterinarians (along with medical practitioners) must take a lead role in antimicrobial stewardship programs to change those practices that are contributing to the inappropriate use of antibiotics.
Veterinarians involved in the treatment of livestock can only use chemicals under strict legislative controls and must follow the rules relating to chemicals for off-label or unregistered use. See the DPIRD webpage on veterinary chemical use for more details.
What can livestock owners do to address antimicrobial resistance?
When using chemicals on animals, it is important to use only registered veterinary chemicals and to follow all label or veterinary directions exactly. You must not vary label directions unless directed by a veterinarian. This includes application method and dose rate. Do not use unregistered chemicals on livestock unless directed by a veterinarian.
See the DPIRD webpage on veterinary chemical use for more information.