Antimicrobial resistance in humans and animals occurs together

In a recent study, the scientists concluded that “globally, the association between antibiotic consumption and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) between human and animals goes both ways”.

My understanding is that they mean that if humans consume too many antibiotics it works against them because the pathogens, the bacteria, become resistant to the antibiotics and they no longer work effectively. And when this happens it causes the same sort of resistance in animals. And this occurs in the opposite direction. If animals such as livestock (food producing animals) are treated with too many antibiotics, they will be exposed to bacteria which have become resistant to the antibiotics. When people eat the food or food by-product of these animals that have consumed too many antibiotics, they can also suffer the same problem of antibiotic resistance. So, they work in parallel and you can cross-reference antimicrobial resistance in humans and animals.

Globally, the association between antibiotic consumption and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) between human and animals goes both ways.
Globally, the association between antibiotic consumption and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) between human and animals goes both ways. Image: MikeB

Senior author and Taught Programme Co-Director of the Faculty of Infectious and Tropical Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Laith Yacob describes this as “bidirectionality in antibiotic consumption”.

Above is my interpretation. Below in the quote are the words of the scientists which says the same thing but in a more technical way.

Using antibiotics in animals is associated with AMR in humans and using antibiotics in humans is associated with AMR in animals…. A greater consumption of antibiotics by animals is associated with an increased risk of AMR in human pathogens while greater human consumption of antibiotics increases the risk of AMR in animals.

The findings are published in The Lancet Planetary Health journal. And because there’s this crossover between animals and humans in terms of antibiotic usage, the study highlights “the urgent need for an integrated, cross-domain strategy to tackle the spread of AMR”. This will include tighter rules on the use of antibiotics.

AMR is a major potential threat to the health of people across the planet. In 2019 bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics caused the deaths of 1.27 million people.

A key factor in the spread of AMR is the incorrect use of antibiotics, antivirals and antifungals.

And there are socio-economic issues. It is quite a complicated matter. Low-income, inequality and death rates due to unsafe hygiene practices and heart problems can increase rates of AMR in humans. Lower socio-economic status is linked with an increased likelihood of AMR in people.

Low and middle-income countries notably Bangladesh, China and India had the highest rates of AMR in food-producing animals. This suggests that antibiotic consumption may be a secondary risk factor to AMR in certain places. China has a utilitarian attitude regarding animals which stops them cutting back on antibiotics in my view. Please read what Ai Weiwei has to say about this:

RELATED: Brilliant, compassionate Ai Weiwei loves cats and finds them more interesting than humans.

They recommend tighter policies and regulations in antibiotic use both for animals and people. And the needs to be improved governance, transparency and accountability.

Comment: I see little realistic possibility of people agreeing to take less antibiotics and farmers agreeing to give their livestock less antibiotics. I know that in China they like to take a lot of antibiotics even when they are necessary because I guess they are given as a precaution a bit like veterinarians give antibiotics to pets as a precaution when they can’t tell the difference between a viral and bacterial infection.

I know that in UK doctors are nowadays more reluctant to prescribe antibiotics and they find a reason why they can’t when asked by the patient for a prescription. So, the message is getting through to doctors in the UK.

Link to the study.

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