What if the biggest antimicrobial resistance problems in humans were not due to antibiotic use in animals?

Dr Michael Starp, Policy & Stakeholder Affairs, Bayer Animal Health
Written by
Dr Michael Starp

The health of humans, animals and the environment are inextricably linked, but is there merit to scrutinizing antibiotic use in animals as a means to mitigate the development of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in humans, asks Dr Michael Starp, Policy & Stakeholder Affairs Manager at Bayer Animal Health?

“What is important to understand is that antibiotic resistance problems in humans are specific to certain pathogens and clones that can no longer be treated with antibiotics. These problematic pathogens are predominantly caused by transmission between people, mainly between patients within and between hospitals. Globally, only a few high risk clones are responsible for the resistance problems in humans and these clones are generally very distinct from the animal reservoir,” Dr Starp explains.

A study, which addressed the question of what proportion of the antimicrobial resistant E.coli pathogens that can be detected in humans comes from the environment, animal husbandry and agriculture found just an 11 percent commonality between pathogen gene profiles found in humans and those from food or livestock-associated reservoirs.1

Another study that investigated hospital “superbugs”, including Klebsiella pneumonia, discovered patients showing signs of the four major pathogen strains were genetically related to other patients in the same hospital or hospitals nearby, indicating spread from patient to patient.2

In fact, in Europe 63.5 percent of all deaths caused by antibiotic resistance have their origins in healthcare facilities.3

Meanwhile, research into E. coli found human pathogens that are becoming resistant were genetically different from animal E. coli pathogens.4

Science is challenging misconceptions on the role of animals

“Although antibiotic resistance in humans is often discussed in association with antibiotic use in animals, research is highlighting the complexity of resistance and at the same time, challenging misconceptions that antibiotic use in animals is the main contributor to antibiotic resistance in humans,” stated Dr Starp.

Recent research clearly shows that current major resistance problems in human health that are caused by multi-resistant pathogen clones and therefore hard to treat in hospitals (sometimes called “superbugs”) are not due to the use of antibiotics in animals. They are genetically distinct from animal pathogens and transmitted from patient to patient. Consequently, it is only the human healthcare sector that can effectively address this major challenge.

Prudent use in human and veterinary health is key to safeguarding antibiotics

Prudent use of antibiotics is still the best course of action to safeguard the effectiveness of antibiotics for humans and for animals. Adherence to responsible use principles with emphasis on improving hygiene and infection prevention, as well as avoiding unnecessary antibiotic use – both in human health and veterinary care – is essential.

Dr Starp elaborates that prudent use doesn’t mean simply reducing antibiotic use. It means reducing the need for antibiotics and ensuring that they are used effectively when needed.

Bayer Animal Health has a strong and long-term commitment to good antibiotic stewardship in veterinary care. In fact, responsible use principles woven into its business practices include global policies that regulate the marketing of antibiotics, resistance monitoring programs, and investments into developing innovative new products such as alternatives to antibiotics. Bayer Animal Health also supports livestock professionals with scientific education, practical approaches and digital tools aimed at enhancing animals’ health, well-being and resilience as a means to help reduce the overall need for antibiotics.

“The first priority should be to endeavour to reduce the need for antibiotic treatments. But when an animal succumbs to a bacterial infection, it deserves to be treated with the appropriate antibiotic, at the right dose, and for needed length of time. If antibiotics are used responsibly in humans and animals across the world, we all have a chance at preserving their effectiveness for the future,” Dr Starp concluded.

Dr Michael Starp, Policy & Stakeholder Affairs, Bayer Animal Health
Written by
Dr Michael Starp