Superbugs beware: The fight is on to combat antibiotic resistance

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The overuse of antibiotics in veterinary medicine is in the spotlight this week, with the theme of World Veterinary Day  Antimicrobial Resistance – from awareness to action.

Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) spokesman Dr Stephen Page said that on a global scale there has been overuse and misuse of life-saving medications in both humans and animals. He said antibiotic resistance was a naturally occurring phenomenon, but the overuse of these medications has significantly accelerated antimicrobial resistance selection and spread.

“As a result, the world is rapidly reaching a point where we are in danger of seeing more people dying from infections due to antibiotic resistance than from cancer.”

This year’s World Veterinary Day, on April 29, will highlight the important role that vets play in ensuring responsible use of antimicrobials in farm animals and in pets.

Page said veterinarians recognise that antibiotics are important medicines that can help treat bacterial disease in animals and prevent associated suffering in pets, livestock and other animals.

“From an animal health and welfare perspective, it’s critical that veterinarians retain access to these essential medications, and that they prescribe them responsibly.

Australia is part of a select group of countries including Iceland, New Zealand, Sweden and Finland that have a low-level of use of antibiotics in animals compared with much of the rest of the world, and levels of important resistances are low.

“Australian veterinarians have judicious use guidelines in place that inform their use of antibiotics. These guidelines help to ensure we’re not overprescribing or misusing antibiotics.

“The key for vets is to work with farmers and pet owners every day to prevent illness and disease in Australian animals by ensuring best practice infection prevention and control and providing nutritious diets, vaccinations, good husbandry, and stress-free environments. A healthy animal does not require antibiotics so the aim is wherever possible to keep animals fit and healthy,” he said.

Resistant bugs can transfer to humans from contaminated food preparation areas and via undercooked food, so good hygiene in food preparation and proper cooking should be practised at home. Resistant bugs can also transfer between people and animals through close contact so proper hygiene and hand washing is important when in close contact with animals whether or not they have been treated with antibiotics.

“Antibiotic resistance is a global problem and requires international collaboration across multiple disciplines if we’re to reduce the problem beyond our own country,” Page said.

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