The entire world is speaking of using antibiotics ‘prudently’. In order to do so, early detection of pathogenic loads is a great tool.
Only last week, another chapter was added to the ongoing story about antibiotics and whether its usage in animal husbandry should be reduced. Chinese scientists published in the medical journal The Lancet about their discovery having found antibiotic resistance to colistin, a trait that allegedly can spread between the bacteria themselves, but also be transferred between bacteria species.
Analogy with MRSA discovery?
I'm sure further research will follow to either prove or disprove these results – or put them into perspective, just like what happened when multi-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) was first discovered. Initially the resistance was thought to originate from overuse in the livestock business and have an effect on human health as well. People jumped up saying 'we need to do something', others reacted defensively, saying 'don't take away our antibiotics until it's rock-solid proven'. Now, science has to come to terms with the fact that if there is an influence, it is only very marginally.
I've said it more often – not the fact that there might be a danger for human health, but the fact that resistance might also result in certain medicines becoming less powerful for pigs themselves, is reason enough for aiming for prudent usage.
Taking the growing concern seriously
Quite a number countries in Western Europe have taken the growing concern around antibiotic usage seriously, as you can see in the overview on antibiotics reduction Pig Progress made earlier this year. The result is a strategy in which first antibiotics for growth promotion and in a later stage also therapeutic antibiotics are being reduced.
The second development is often a logical result of the first. One only has to think of a mechanism in which growth-promoting antibiotics also deal with unwanted bacteria populations in a piglet's gut that at that stage are harmless.
Not removing them could mean that in unfavourable circumstaces they might grow out to become a nagging problem. It was therefore understandable and explainable that reducing growth promoting antibiotics initially not always led to a total reduction of antibiotics.
Penalising above average usage of therapeutic antibiotics
Denmark and the Netherlands have therefore already firmly taken next steps: actively penalising above average usage of antibiotics for therapeutic purposes. The effects can be seen: bit by bit, the total antibiotic consumption in pigs is going down now, without this coming at the expense of animal health.
In order to achieve this, a change of mindset was necessary. Taking away the veil that antibiotic usage offered, more than ever it is now a case of being 100% aware of pig farm management. How to prevent viruses and bacteria to come in, how to avoid making pathogens thrive, and how to tackle outbreaks as soon as possible?
You may also find interesting:
Pathogens and Prevention special focus
Prevention is key – producers need to find ways to make it more difficult for pathogens to strike. Here you can find articles on biosecurity and strategies to minimise the effect of pathogens in the pig house.
Spotting pathogenic problems early
This last question in particular I find interesting. After all, if bacteria or viruses can be spotted in a very early stage – at first clinical signs or preferably even sooner, this could permit antibiotic usage for therapeutic purposes, but still on a fairly limited scale.
Realising the full importance of early detection is for instance a novel innovation of sock sampling by 2 Danish vets at Ø-Vet, intended to early identify pathogens in diarrhoea. It's one of those concepts of which one thinks – why didn't anybody think of this before?
Cough Monitor sending out signals
And of course, also touched on very recently, was the ongoing development of the Cough Monitor, a microphone registration system which picks up coughs and sends out signals in case the pattern looks like the onset of a respiratory issue.
After all, the sooner infections are found, the quicker farm management and their vets can take action, and the more prudent antibiotics can be used.