By Wendy Wilkins, DVM PhD, Disease Surveillance Veterinarian, Regina
Since their discovery, antibiotics have served as the cornerstone of modern medicine. Infections that used to kill regularly, such as wound infections and pneumonia, now are usually easily treatable with antibiotics. Antibiotics allow successful invasive surgeries, such as open-heart surgery, joint replacements and caesarean sections. Most people alive today cannot imagine a world where every cut, every scratch and every cough was something to be concerned about, as it could eventually lead to death. And yet, these critically important medications are losing their effectiveness as bacteria become resistant to these drugs.
Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR) occurs naturally over time, usually through genetic changes. However, the misuse and overuse of antibiotics is accelerating this process. Examples of misuse include taking them for viral infections like colds and flu, and when they are given as growth promoters in animals.
It is important that antibiotics are only used when needed and as directed. In a move to improve oversight over veterinary antibiotic use in Canada, Health Canada’s Veterinary Drugs Directorate is introducing new federal rules on antibiotics for livestock and poultry. The targeted drugs are those that are considered medically important antibiotics, those of significant importance to human health. Essentially, this includes all antibiotics with the exception of ionophores such as monensin and salinomycin. More information about these changes can be found in a recent webinar conducted by the Beef Cattle Research Council.
The primary changes that will impact the livestock and poultry sectors are:
- Veterinary drugs can no longer be imported by individual producers for their own use, and import of the raw form of these products will be limited to federally-approved veterinarians and pharmacists (effective November 2018);
- Elimination of growth promotion claims for any medically important antibiotic (effective December 1, 2018);
- All medically important antibiotics will be moved to the prescription drug list, meaning a veterinary prescription and a valid veterinarian-client-patient-relationship will be needed to access these drugs. Feed mills producing medicated feed will require a prescription for all medically important antibiotics included in the feed (effective December 1, 2018).
AMR-bacteria can be found anywhere there are bacteria present: in people, animals, food, and in the water, soil and air. They can spread between people and animals, including from food of animal origin, and from person to person, and from people to animals. Poor infection control, inadequate sanitary conditions and inappropriate food-handling encourage the spread of AMR.
Everyone has a role to play in slowing the development and spread of AMR. Don’t insist that your doctor prescribe an antibiotic for every sore throat or cough; when you are prescribed an antibiotic, make sure to follow instructions for taking it and make sure to complete the full course of treatment. Preventing infections in the first place goes a long way to reducing the need for antibiotics, and this applies to people and animals alike. Good hygiene, good nutrition, reducing stress and keeping vaccinations up-to-date are excellent ways to help prevent infections.
Its important to keep in mind that antimicrobial resistance is seen as a growing threat around the world and antimicrobial use should be overseen by medical professionals; in the case of use in animals, that means oversight by veterinarians. Improved antimicrobial stewardship is the goal.