Dr Mark Schipp on antimicrobial resistance

17 Nov 2021

From the desk of Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Mark Schipp 

Antimicrobial resistance 

Veterinarians routinely prescribe and dispense antimicrobial medications to animals and the issue of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is something we all need to be aware of and work together to prevent. 

Antibiotics are one type of antimicrobial medication, and over the past century they have revolutionised our health and our lives, including the lives of the animals in our care. Antimicrobials have contributed to improvements in health and welfare, extending lifespans, and supported animal production and food safety. Over this relatively short time in our history, a world without these medicines has become almost unimaginable. 

However, it would be perilous to take antimicrobials for granted as we need antimicrobial medications to work as intended. If we overuse or misuse these important drugs, they can become less effective at treating infections with bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites– leading to antimicrobial resistance. 

AMR a global threat to people and animals 

AMR is a serious risk to global health, with the World Health Organization (WHO) having declared it one of the top ten global public health threats facing humanity. Without effective antimicrobials we would not be able to treat common infections, and surgeries which we currently consider routine would become risky. 

Antimicrobial resistance is also a threat that doesn’t respect species or borders, it is a global issue that impacts people, animals and our shared environment. As veterinarians it is vital that we all use antimicrobials responsibly and treat these precious medicines with respect to preserve their long-term efficacy. 

From November 18 to 24 we recognise World Antimicrobial Awareness Week, an event which reminds us to use antimicrobials wisely to prevent the spread of AMR. Over recent decades, the inappropriate use of antimicrobials in human and animal health, has resulted in antimicrobial resistance becoming more common worldwide. 

Risks taken by one country can endanger the effectiveness and availability of antimicrobials for the whole planet. Here in Australia, we are fortunate to have a good animal health status and a strong biosecurity system, which means we have less incidence of disease compared to some other countries.  

For those of us working in the animal health sector, the use of veterinary medicinal products, including antimicrobial agents, is essential for protecting animal health and welfare, and minimising production losses caused by animal illness or diseases. Safeguarding the efficacy of antimicrobial agents is therefore crucial. 

The development of new antimicrobials is not enough to maintain the fight against the microorganisms responsible for what are often serious diseases in people and animals. There are few new antimicrobials being brought to market, and any new antimicrobials that are developed are likely to be set aside for human health. A lack of access to quality antimicrobials is a major issue for animal health and further highlights the importance of appropriately using the antimicrobials that we do have currently available. 

Australia’s National Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy – 2020 and Beyond 

Australia’s National Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy – 2020 and Beyond (the 2020 strategy) was released in 2020, outlining a 20-year vision to protect the health of humans, animals and the environment through minimising the development and spread of AMR, while continuing to have effective antimicrobials available. Any effective response to antimicrobial resistance therefore requires a ‘One Health’ approach, involving coordinated action across all sectors where antimicrobials are used, as well as close alignment with global action. 

The implementation of the 2020 strategy requires coordinated action by all Australian governments, along with the private sector, industry, professionals, the research community and the general public. Only by working together can we ensure the continued availability of effective antimicrobials both now and into the future. 

Understanding antimicrobial prescribing behaviour in the veterinary industry 

The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment is funding a prescribing behaviour survey to investigate current prescribing by veterinarians, the reasons behind prescribing decisions, and the attitudes of animal owners. The results from the survey will inform the development of evidence-based antimicrobial prescribing guidelines and best practice industry supports. 

Antimicrobial prescribing guidelines should be used in all health care settings where antimicrobials are used. The Australian Veterinary Association in conjunction with Animal Medicines Australia have developed antimicrobial prescribing guidelines for sheep, poultry and pigs, and are progressing similar guidelines for dairy cattle. 

AMR Vet Collective 

I would encourage all veterinarians to check out the AMR Vet Collective website which is a fantastic resource. They have also recently launched their updated veterinary antimicrobial stewardship (AMS) online training program, which has been designed to help veterinarians make optimal decisions when using antimicrobial agents in clinical practice. 

The interactive modules incorporate scenario-centred learning for veterinarians across all areas of practice, and participants can achieve continuing education points. This collaborative project was developed by the Veterinary Schools of Australia and New Zealand, the University of Sydney, Charles Sturt University and funded by the Australian Government. 

AMR – final thoughts 

By following antimicrobial prescribing guidelines and only using antimicrobials when appropriate we can collectively reduce the risk of antimicrobial resistance. As veterinarians we should practice good biosecurity and on-farm hygiene, and implement and encourage the best standards of animal welfare and husbandry. It is also very important to encourage animal owners to ensure that animals in their care have up to date vaccinations and are provided with appropriate nutrition and clean housing. 

Finally, it is also vitally important that we continue to spread the word about AMR, to help improve community understanding of the role everybody has in reducing antimicrobial resistance. 

For further information on AMR: www.amr.gov.au    

To access the AMR Vet Collective and AMS Online Training Program: www.amrvetcollective.com