Veterinary Diagnostic Practice and the challenge of Antimicrobial Resistance

Posted on November 19, 2018 by Kristen K. Reyher, Henry Buller, Ray Chan And Alison Bard

Will a better understanding of veterinary diagnostic practices and of the possible role of rapid and innovative diagnostic technology help in the drive to reduce the overall use of antimicrobials in livestock farming and thus help decrease antimicrobial resistance amongst both animal and human pathogens? The Universities of Bristol, Exeter and Edinburgh are currently collaborating on a major study entitled 'Diagnostic Innovation and Livestock (DIAL): Towards more effective and sustainable applications of antibiotics in livestock farming’. As part of this research, in association with BVA and on the heels of World Antibiotic Awareness Week (12-18 November), we are launching a large-scale on-line survey of UK veterinary surgeons of farmed animals.

The challenge

The O’Neill Review in 2016 recognised a need for the greater use of diagnostic tools in veterinary medicine to identify and confirm infection and disease and thereby make more targeted and appropriate prescription and treatment decisions involving antimicrobials. To achieve this, better understanding is needed of how diagnostics are currently used in veterinary practice and of what opportunities and barriers might exist for new, innovative and more rapid diagnostic technologies.

The research

The DIAL research project - funded by the Economic and Social Research Council working in partnership with the Department of Health, Defra and others - involves a four-year interdisciplinary collaboration between veterinary scientists, social scientists, natural scientists and vets to map out the different conditions (behavioural, regulatory, economic and physical) that impact upon diagnostic practice and can foster innovation in the development and use of diagnostic tools in the UK. To achieve this, we are examining current diagnostic practices and, in particular, how these inform decisions leading to the use of antimicrobials in animal treatment. At the same time, we are reviewing the current use of rapid or point-of-care diagnostic tools in livestock veterinary medicine with a view to identifying the potential for new rapid devices to contribute to more targeted antimicrobial use.

The survey

The survey is being sent to all UK vets working with farmed animal who are currently members of BVA. It is an online survey, with respondents answering through a web-link to a dedicated site. The survey has four aims:

  • Generate data on the current use of diagnostics in farm animal veterinary medicine
  • Investigate the relationship between diagnostic practice and the use of antimicrobials in livestock treatment
  • Assess the current use and future potential of pen-side, on-farm, point-of-care and rapid diagnostics in farm animal veterinary medicine, and
  • Consider the potential for future improvements and developments in rapid diagnostic tools to achieve better targeting and more appropriate use of antimicrobials in the treatment of farm animals.

The questionnaire takes around 15 minutes to complete and we are hoping that a large number of vets will be able to respond. The survey is entirely anonymous, and all respondents have been assured that the information they supply will be only used for research purposes by the research team. We are very much hoping for a strong response rate from BVA members. As the latest VARSS Report demonstrates, the veterinary profession in the UK, along with the farming profession, has already achieved considerable success in reducing antimicrobial use in livestock.

Who we would like to participate in the survey

We are hoping to get responses from vets who are regularly dealing with farmed animals as their principal activity, whether they are private vets, self-employed, independent or working in a corporate practice, vets associated with food and feed companies or other bodies, government or academic vets. We are seeking responses from those working with all the main farmed species, including dairy cattle, beef cattle, poultry (layers), poultry (boilers) and pigs.

What happens with the survey results?

The survey will be open for three weeks. Because all data recorded is entirely anonymous and no individual or organisation will be identified or identifiable from the results, we are looking to establish patterns of variation in the responses (for example, in the types of diagnostic tools favoured by particular groups of vets) and associations between answers (for example, a positive answer in one question being associated with a negative answer in another). We are looking to review the most common diagnostic tools employed and their perceived limitations. We also want to find out if vets in practice use rapid diagnostic tools, how they use them, and what potential they believe such tools might have in contributing to more targeted medicine use. The results will be published at the completion of the research, but we are fully intending to share early results of the survey with the BVA and, hopefully, will be able to report those findings in a later contribution to the BVA blog.

Beyond the survey

This survey is part of the broader DIAL research project on diagnostics and antimicrobial use in farm animal veterinary medicine. In addition to the survey, we are talking to vets and farmers across the country about the processes and procedures employed or followed when determining whether an animal or herd or flock is infected with a bacterial disease and the prescription and treatment decisions that flow from that determination. We are working with the developers of diagnostic tools as well as regulators and policy makers who determine whether a particular tool gets to the market. We are also collaborating with vets who experiment with new diagnostic procedures and we hope, as part of this research, to actively test new diagnostic tools within farm environments. Finally, we are conducting parallel research in Tanzania, where we believe rapid diagnostics may well have a significant role to play in disease management and treatment in a context where veterinary infrastructure is less widespread.

If BVA members and/or questionnaire respondents would like any additional information about the DIAL project, about the questionnaire survey or would simply like to talk to us about their own use of diagnostic tools or their opinions on rapid diagnostics, please do not hesitate to contact the DIAL research team or visit our website: https://www.dialamr.com/what-we-do/.

Many thanks in advance for your participation!

DIAL Project Research Team

Kristen Reyher, David Barrett, Alison Bard (Bristol Veterinary School)

Henry Buller, Stephen Hinchliffe, Ray Chan (Exeter University)

Joyce Tait, Ann Bruce, Katie Adam (Edinburgh University)

More information

Kristen K. Reyher, Henry Buller, Ray Chan and Alison Bard

Written by Kristen K. Reyher, Henry Buller, Ray Chan and Alison Bard

Kristen leads the AMR Force, the AMR research group at the Bristol Veterinary School. Much of this work focuses on how to reduce antibiotic use through behaviour change, and Kristen directs the first studies applying a counselling style called Motivational Interviewing to veterinarian-client communication.

Henry, who leads the DIAL consortium, is a human geographer, but works principally in animal geographies. He is involved in a number of national and international research projects and professional activities that seek to bring a critical social science understanding to the issue of farm and working animal welfare in contemporary production systems and food supply chains.

Ray is a human geographer who is interested in the areas of agri-food governance, animal health and the emergence of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in the United Kingdom and China. He is currently working within the DIAL consortium exploring diagnostic innovation and the utilisation of antibiotics in livestock farming in the United Kingdom.

Alison is a research associate working within Bristol’s AMR Force. As part DIAL team, she is exploring the conditions needed to achieve improved veterinary diagnostic practices and treatment decisions, in the pursuit of sensible and sustainable use of veterinary medicines.