Antimicrobial agents have been responsible for a dramatic reduction in the number of deaths from infectious diseases over the last 70 years. However, as a result of the overuse and misuse of antimicrobial agents, we are now on the verge of a new public health crisis: antimicrobial resistance.
Figures indicate that we are already seeing the onset of resistance. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) estimates that antimicrobial resistance results in 25,000 deaths each year in the European Union and incurs costs of over €1.5 billion in healthcare expenses and productivity losses. Doctors are increasingly placed in the position where they cannot cure infected patients because the bacterium responsible for infections is resistant to the antibiotics available.
Landmark EU study on antimicrobial consumption
In January 2015, the first integrated analysis of data from humans, animals and food in Europe was published. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) jointly conducted a study at the request of the European Commission.
This investigated associations between the consumption of antimicrobials – such as antibiotics - in humans and food-producing animals, and antimicrobial resistance in bacteria from humans and food-producing animals. Results indicated that the use of some antimicrobials in animals and humans will lead to resistance to these same agents.
The study states: “In both humans and animals, positive associations between consumption of antimicrobials and the corresponding resistance in bacteria were observed for most of the combinations investigated. In some cases, a positive association was also found between antimicrobial consumption in animals and resistance in bacteria from humans.”
The healthcare perspective
Doctors are becoming concerned about the growing problem of multi-drug resistant infections and are taking a series of measures in their own practices to minimise the problem of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics are crucial for specific cases and should only be prescribed if truly necessary.
It is important to recognise that antibiotics are used in both veterinary and human medicine. Both sectors need to increase their efforts to reduce usage. HCWH Europe believes that antibiotics important for human healthcare should be prohibited from use in livestock farming. Greater transparency is also needed to allow monitoring and the development of reduction strategies.