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Antimicrobial resistance: animal use of antibiotics 

Antimicrobial resistance: animal use of antibiotics
Chapter:
Antimicrobial resistance: animal use of antibiotics
Author(s):

Lord Soulsby

DOI:
10.1093/med/9780198570028.003.0005
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date: 24 February 2020

The evolution of resistance to microbes is one of the most significant problems in modern medicine, posing serious threats to human and animal health. The early work on the use of antibiotics to bacterial infections gave much hope that infectious diseases were no longer a problem, especially in the human field. However, as their use, indeed over use, progressed, resistance (both mono-resistance and multi-resistance), which was often transferable between different strains and species of bacteria, emerged. In addition, the situation is increasingly complex, as various mechanisms of resistance, including a wide range of β -lactamases, are now complicating the issue. The use of antibiotics in animals, especially those used for growth promotion, has come in for serious criticism, especially those where their use should be reserved for difficult human infections. To lend control, certain antibiotic growth promoters have been banned from use in the EU and the UK.

It is now a decade since the UK House of Lords Science and Technology Committee (1998) highlighted concerns about antimicrobial resistance and the dangers to human health of resistant organisms derived from animals fed antibiotics for growth promotion or the treatment of infectious diseases. The concern expressed in the House of Lords report was similar to that in other major reports on the subject, for example from the World Health Organization, the Wellcome Foundation, the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food and the Swann Report (1969) in which it was recommended that antibiotics used in human medicine should not be used as growth promoters in animals. At the press conference to launch the Lord’s Report it was emphasized that unless serious attention was given to dealing with resistance ‘we may find ourselves returning to a pre-antibiotic era’. The evolution of resistance is one of the significant problems in modern medicine, a much changed situation when the early work on antibiotics gave hope that infectious diseases were no longer a problem, especially in the human field. Optimism was so strong that the Surgeon General of the USA, William H Stewart, in 1969 advised the US Congress that ‘it is time to close the book on infectious diseases and to declare that work against the pestilence is over’. This comment was not only mistaken but it was also damaging to human health undertakings and also reduced funding for research on infectious diseases.

Despite the widespread support for and dependence on antibiotics, resistance was increasingly reported worldwide and to recognize the global problem a group of medical workers established in 1981, at Tufts University, the Alliance for the Prudent use of Antibiotics (APUA). This now has affiliated chapters on over 60 countries, many in the developing world. APUA claims to be the ‘world’s leading organization conducting antimicrobial resistance research, education, capacity building and advocacy at the global and grass roots levels’.

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