May 14, 2016 – The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) has launched a world-first trial to help to protect life-saving antibiotics for the future while, to find ways to protect life-saving antibiotics for animals for the future.

The pilot programme is the brainchild of Canberra vets Alison Taylor and Michael Archinal. Several veterinary practices in Australia’s capital city have have joined together to work on scheme.

“I have been touched in a number of ways by the need for all of us to work together to preserve the value of antibiotics, whether you treat hamsters or humans,” Alison said, adding, “I have family members who work in infection control in hospitals, and also know others with chronic illnesses who are becoming resistant to the treatments currently available. So I was keen to see whether my vet friends and I could do something valuable and meaningful to contribute to the fight against antibiotic resistance.”

Michael sees the small, close-knit Canberra veterinary community as ideal to try out a new idea for a programme like this.

“In Canberra, everyone in veterinary practice knows everyone else and we’re all very supportive of each other. I’m looking forward to seeing most of the practices in the region coming on board to help lead the way towards better antibiotic prescribing,” Michael said.

The pilot trial involves veterinary practices committing to the programme for 12 months. During that time, practices will adopt a standard practice policy on antimicrobial stewardship, and use specially-designed communication tools to help explain to clients the best approach to treating pets with antibiotics. All veterinarians in participating practices will also complete an online training programme to remind them of the basics of responsible prescribing. Evaluation will include assessing whether there are changes in antibiotic prescribing in the practices as a result of the pilot trial.

The AVA is encouraging vets in or around Canberra to get involved, in what is believed to be the world’s first attempt at a programme to improve antimicrobial stewardship in small animal veterinary practices.

AVA spokesperson and vet Stephen Page said fighting antimicrobial resistance is a strategic priority for the association.

“While antimicrobial resistance from animals appears to be a significantly smaller risk in Australia than in other nations, the veterinary profession accepts its responsibility in working alongside human health professions to fight resistance at every opportunity,” he said.

The New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) is also working to curb the overuse of antibiotics in treating animal illnesses.

NZVA Head of Veterinary Services Callum Irvine told Pet News Today the country was aiming to eliminate dependency on antibiotics wherever possible by 2030.

“By working together, all stakeholders, we will have many other viable alternatives, leaving the antibiotics we have now still available for the future… we will always need antibiotics as an option for therapeutic use… if we reduce and replace use where we can, these antibiotics will still be available when we require them.

“The veterinary profession is taking a leadership role as it has the professional, regulatory and moral responsibility for the appropriate use of all medicines used on animals, including antimicrobials. There is scientific evidence linking animals, humans and the environment in the transfer of antimicrobial resistance [AMR].

“New Zealand faces a complex problem involving the future effectiveness of antimicrobials, challenges to animal health and welfare from the loss of control of infectious diseases, and export market access for NZ animal products. Our vision requires us to work collaboratively with a range of organisations, including Government, DairyNZ, Federated Farmers and the human health sector, to achieve an absolute minimum use of antimicrobials in all New Zealand animals without compromising on animal welfare.

“We need to develop a plan that is based on the ‘6-R’ structure: Recognition: recognition that a problem exists. Responsibility: must be accepted by consensus in order to finalise a broad framework for a future strategy; strong partnerships must be developed between all stakeholders. Reduction: substantial reduction of use of the World Health Organisation-identified Critically Important Antibiotics (CIA). Refinement: refinement [in] use of antimicrobial treatments requiring further study, expanding learnings from the reduction efforts. This can be aided by research in diagnostics, for which NZ has good capability, and research by the human/animal health industry into ‘Replacement technologies’[sic].

“As far as we are aware, we (the NZVA) are the first veterinary association in the world to have such a vision for the use of antimicrobials and to have made it an explicit goal.”

After reading the report, we asked why aren’t pet and animal owners considered stakeholders—isn’t it vital that they be informed and educated as well?

“Pet and animal owners can speak with their vets to learn more about the responsible use of antibiotics. These essential medicines are at risk with fewer antibiotics about [now] to treat common infectious diseases. Vets will help clients put a focus on preventing pets from becoming unwell in the first place, for example, through up-to-date vaccinations, as well as advice on getting pets to have regular health checks, good nutrition, and enough exercise. When pets do become ill, vets are able to advise on the best course of treatment, which may or may not involve antibiotics. If it is a viral infection, this will not respond to antibiotics, and, even if it’s a bacterial infection, antibiotics will not always be the first choice of treatment; alternatives may be explored first. If antibiotics are prescribed, it’s vital to follow all instructions about antibiotic use, including completing the prescribed dose.

“This helps to ensure your pet’s infection is cleared and that they will not need to take another full course of antibiotics because the first course wasn’t completed. Misuse of antibiotics can also mean bacteria survive, and are then less susceptible to treatment. Antibiotic resistant infections in pets can potentially be a risk to the health of owners and their families, so understanding and following your vet’s advice is critical to everyone’s well-being. Always seek veterinary advice if you have any concerns about giving antibiotics to your pet.”

“All pet and animal owners need to understand the importance of using antibiotics responsibly if we are to achieve our AMR vision. It will be necessary to raise public awareness about the responsible use of antibiotics and how everyone can play their part in doing this.”

Polly Stewart
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