The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies antibiotic resistance (AMR) as one of the biggest dangers to global health. It threatens our ability to treat even common infectious diseases and puts millions at risk.
As Carel du Marhcie Sarvaas, HealthforAnimals Executive Director, stressed in a recent article in The Independent “The health of humans and animals remains intrinsically linked. It is in the interests of both humans and animals that together we tackle antibiotic resistance.”
Within the animal health industry, this is already happening. HealthforAnimals’ Commitment to responsible antibiotic use – ‘Animal Health Commitments and Actions on Antibiotic Use’ – outlines how the sector is working to be part of the solution. It’s investing billions in new disease treatments, training veterinarians on responsible use, improving husbandry and more.
Here’s five pioneering ways in which the sector is tackling AMR and safeguarding the health of humans and animals alike.
1. Development of animal-only antibiotics
The industry is working hard to develop animal-only antibiotics. Targeted medicines that treat certain species help to reduce the risk of AMR in humans because the drugs are never intended for human use.
Just last year, new drugs were approved in the US for pork and poultry, which will protect animal health without compromising human health.
2. Custom vaccines for disease prevention
Major investment is being made into vaccinations as the primary alternative to antibiotics. Advances in the types of vaccines that are available, with the use of techniques like molecular diagnostics, mean more effective, targeted treatments are being produced.
Custom-made vaccines, such as autogenus vaccines, can respond to a specific disease and can be targeted towards an individual population or viral strain. For example, blood samples from animals can be used to create custom vaccines for specific herds. Custom vaccines can reduce dependence on standard commercial vaccines.
Work is also being done to promote vaccination in countries with a high proportion of smallholders, where standard antibiotic use is high.
3. Investment in apps and wearable tech for animals
Digital solutions to health monitoring and diagnostics represent a key way in which the industry is working to identify and prevent disease outbreaks.
For example, an app has been developed in the US to manage porcine respiratory disease complex (PRDC), a pig disease that halts their growth and causes a fever and anorexia. The technology allows for preventative steps that reduce the need for antibiotic treatment.
Elsewhere, wearable health technology is being used to track subtle changes in livestock that indicate illness, meaning farmers can be selective in giving antibiotics. For example, bluetooth ear tags can collect robust data on the behaviour of cattle, measuring temperature, activity and the animals’ environment. A sudden rise in temperature, as well as changes to eating and drinking habits can signify a possible health issue and the need for intervention.
4. Boosting immune health
The industry is becoming more invested in disease prevention, researching and implementing measures to enhance immune health and reduce the risk of illness.
Natural nutritional supplements have been shown to improve the overall health of poultry and lead to fewer health problems, thereby reducing the need for antibiotics. While the dairy industry is becoming more aware of how immunity boosting supplements can help cow herds avoid diseases, such as mastitis. Therefore, switching behaviours to prevention over cure will be an effective way of cutting antibiotic use.
5. Investment in disease management and best practice
A number of commitments are being made to seek out alternatives to antibiotics. Researchers are looking at topical antibiotics as first line treatments, and the development of more effective enzymes and probiotics to support good animal health.
Meanwhile animal health businesses are investing in educating veterinarians on the optimal way of using antibiotics and ensuring antibiotic administration is conducted only with veterinarian over-sight. In countries where this isn’t possible, farmers are also being engaged on this subject.
Further research to develop an understanding of AMR is ongoing, alongside monitoring programmes. Two years ago, WHO agreed to accept a Global Action Plan against AMR. The plan lays out extensive solutions and best practices that all countries can take to reduce AMR.
Specific best practice guidelines for disease prevention in livestock are also under development by individual countries. The American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) recently published Antimicrobial Stewardship Guidelines for Bovine Practice, emphasising disease prevention and a reduction in the use of antibiotics.
HealthForAnimals has launched its Commitment to reducing antibiotic use across the animal health industry, which is supported by organizations representing over 200 companies and 700,000 veterinarians worldwide. Find out more.