Antibiotic resistance—the interplay between antibiotic use in animals and human beings
Singer RS, et al
The Lancet: Infectious Diseases 3:47-51
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria were first identified in the 1940s, but while new antibiotics were being discovered at a steady rate, the consequences of this phenomenon were slow to be appreciated. Today, the excessive use of antibiotics compounded by the paucity of new agents on the market has meant the problem of antibiotic resistance is fast escalating into a global health crisis.
There is no doubt that misuse of these drugs in human beings has contributed to the increasing rates of resistance, but recently the use of antibiotics in food animals and its consequent effect on resistance levels in people has also come under scrutiny. Antimicrobials are used therapeutically and prophylactically in animals. More controversially, antimicrobials are also used as growth promoters to improve the ability of the animal to convert feed into body mass.
Some argue that the impact of use of antibiotics in animals—whether therapeutic or as growth promoters—pales by comparison with human use, and that efforts should be concentrated on the misuse of antibiotics in people. Others warn of the dangers of unregulated and unnecessary use of antibiotics, especially growth promoters in animal husbandry. There is a growing concern over the transmission of resistant bacteria via the food chain. Many questions will be difficult to resolve, such as how do you distinguish the fraction of resistance in human beings that originated from animals? If we wait to see evidence that a significant amount of antibiotic resistance really does come through the food chain, will it be too late for action?
In this forum, we present different perspectives from both human and animal medicine, to better understand the complexity of the problem of antibiotic resistance and examine the challenges that lie ahead.