More Drug Resistance in Zoonoses, Warn Health Groups

EU - Better surveillance needed to fight spread of antimicrobial resistance in zoonotic infections, particularly Salmonella and Campylobacter, according to a group of health agencies.
calendar icon 17 November 2009
clock icon 4 minute read

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) and the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) have published a joint scientific opinion on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) focused on infections transmitted to humans from animals and food (zoonoses).

The joint opinion concludes that bacterial resistance to antimicrobials has increased in recent years worldwide, making it more difficult to treat some human and animal infections. It says surveillance activities should be strengthened and the development of new antimicrobials and new strategies to combat the spread of resistance encouraged. Research is needed on other strategies to control infectious diseases in animals, such as vaccination programmes.

The opinion says there is specific concern about bacterial resistance to antibiotics used in the treatment of Salmonella and Campylobacter infections – the two most reported zoonotic infections in Europe, and points out which antibiotics are considered of high concern for their treatment. It says that although the use of antibiotics is considered the main factor in the development of bacterial resistance, the use of biocides (including disinfectants, antiseptics and preservatives) may also contribute to bacterial resistance.

Dominique L. Monnet, Senior Expert and Coordinator of the Antimicrobial Resistance and Healthcare-Associated Infections at ECDC, said: "Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to public health in the European Union and a priority area of work at ECDC. The major cause of antibiotic resistance in humans remains the use of antibiotics in human medicine. If the misuse and overuse of antibiotics continue, we will lose the means to treat serious infectious diseases."

The opinion on antimicrobial resistance in zoonotic infections highlights that globalisation of food trade and frequent travel to countries outside the EU make it difficult to compare resistance data from surveillance programmes at EU level and to assess the impact of those strains coming from outside the EU. It also adds that the differences in levels of antimicrobial resistance in the various EU countries make it difficult to have a single strategy to fight against this threat.

Professor Dan Collins, Chair of EFSA's Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) Panel, said: "Resistance is caused by the ability of bacteria to undergo changes, given their increasing exposure to antimicrobials used in human and veterinary medicine. Most antimicrobial-resistant strains of zoonotic bacteria are found in the gastrointestinal tract of healthy food animals, particularly poultry, pigs and cattle."

Food-borne infections caused by these bacteria very often originate from contamination during slaughter of animals or food processing. The opinion says that at present there are no data available to demonstrate that the use of antibiotics in human medicine may also have an impact on the resistance of zoonotic bacteria.

The three EU agencies and the SCENIHR have worked together on this issue, sharing their scientific expertise and advising EU decision-makers on risks and making recommendations for action.

David Mackay, Head of Unit Veterinary Medicines and Product Data Management at the European Medicines Agency, said: "This exercise has been an example of how different institutions within the EU can successfully work together to tackle the issue of antimicrobial resistance, which currently represents a significant threat to human health."

The opinion on antimicrobial resistance in zoonotic infections was published ahead of European Antibiotic Awareness Day on 18 November, which focuses on resistance to antibiotics. The opinion confirms previous recommendations that prudent use of antimicrobials in animals should be strongly promoted and that veterinarians and farmers should be educated on strategies to minimise antimicrobial resistance. Other previous recommendations said antibiotics such as fluoroquinolones and cephalosporins should be reserved for treating conditions which respond poorly to other antimicrobials.

Further Reading

- You can view the Joint Opinion on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) focused on zoonotic infections by clicking here.
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