Responsible use of antibiotics - what’s it all about?

Posted on November 15, 2016 by John Fishwick

Veterinary medicinesNo one can have failed to notice the recent surge of publicity on the topic of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and the need for antibiotics to be used and prescribed responsibly. The whole issue has been brought sharply into focus by the publication in May this year of a report by Jim O’Neill reviewing the area of antimicrobial resistance globally.

There have been no new classes of antimicrobial agents discovered for over 20 years and the very real fear is that, unless there is a global effort to combat rising levels of antimicrobial resistance, then treatment of even simple infections may no longer be possible in the future.

This requires a concerted effort across the medical and veterinary professions and is a true example of where a One Health approach needs to be taken to ensure concerted and coordinated action is taken across both sectors. Collaboration and joined up thinking is essential.

What is BVA doing to help its members with the issue of AMR?

BVA fully acknowledges the need for responsible prescribing and use of antimicrobials across all sectors. We are working with our colleagues in the medical profession, through the British Medical Association, to produce publicity materials which reinforce the need for action across both sectors. We believe there is good joined up thinking with the medics on this issue. However, there is a tendency to simply blame “the vets” for using mass medication with antibiotics. We will always ensure that these messages are robustly defended on behalf of our members.

We are members and supporters of the Alliance for the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) which comprises 25 organisations from the UK livestock sector, and we believe that working closely with RUMA is essential to ensure strong messages and evidence based outcomes across the livestock sector.

The O’Neill report has recommended that a target is set and that total antimicrobial use in livestock should be limited to 50mg/kg of meat or fish. We will be working with our divisions and RUMA to try and establish appropriate and evidence based guidelines for each livestock sector, bearing in mind that the needs and practices of each species may be different. We will also do all we can to encourage good husbandry practices that aim to reduce the need for antibiotic usage.

We also continue to work closely with our colleagues in the medical profession together with government agencies including the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and Public Health England.

What can you do to tackle antibiotic resistance?

All of us have to take the issue seriously and our daily actions as veterinary surgeons can make a very substantial difference to the situation and the attitudes of our clients. At the very least every vet practice should clearly display copies of the BVA posters:

With this challenge comes an important opportunity to work with our clients and to see how we may help them to reduce their antimicrobial usage. Attention to husbandry issues and controlling endemic disease, such as BVD virus, may play an important role in this. Many practices have done a great job of putting plans and policies in place to cover responsible use and are addressing the issues head on. We should also all consider pledging to become Antibiotic Guardians.

We know that 49% of members who took part in our Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey earlier this year considered AMR to be a pressing issue. We all need to take action now and be seen to take action.

Veterinary View: What vets are doing to tackle antibiotic resistance

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John Fishwick

Written by John Fishwick

BVA President from September 2017 to September 2018

John is senior lecturer in Dairy Herd Medicine and former head of the Department of Production and Population Health at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC). He is a former President of the British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA). Prior to this he worked in mixed practice and he was once head veterinarian to the world’s largest fully integrated dairy company, farming over 25,000 high producing dairy cows in Saudi Arabia.