ANTIMICROBIAL resistance (AMR) is leading up to be one of the world’s biggest challenges facing both human and animal health, with a predicament of more people forecast to die from issues related to AMR than cancer by 2050. 

That was the message given by John Grant, a director of Parklands Veterinary Group, at NSA’s Northern Ireland sheep event. 

“Resistance to antibiotics is a growing worry across the world and everyone will be personally hurt by it. The changes in bacteria and being resistant to antibiotics has been happening for years but it is worse now due to the overuse of antibiotics.”

ESBL (extended spectrum beta-lactamases), a bacterial infection related to E coli and Klebsiella, is a serious illness which has come into the spotlight, after Swedish tourists were swabbed on returning from holiday in countries in north Europe and the Far East. Three percent of those returning from north Europe had come into contact with ESBL, and 36% of those returning from the Far East tested positive in contact with ESBL. 

Mr Grant added: “The rise of MSRA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) has also brought about the threat of AMR and infections like that are going to lead to marked change in how antibiotics are managed”. 

With that in mind, John highlighted that we should ‘use as little as possible but as much as required’ and be prepared to open our minds to different systems and adapt to change when it comes to treating our animals.

He did point out however that northern Europe has a focus on controlled usage, compared to Spain, Greece and southern Europe, where antibiotic usage in people is 3.5 times that of the north. It is also up to 15 times higher in Asia and Africa. 

Parklands Veterinary Group currently sees the most antibiotic usage in CODD, footrot, enzootic abortion and E coli scouring around lambing and although John claims the use of antibiotics is low within sheep flocks, we cannot afford to be complacent. 

“All of these illnesses can be avoided if we improve our biosecurity and keep diseases without or within an area, minimising the risk of spreading. When buying new sheep it is important that they are isolated for at least three weeks as they usually introduce such illnesses. Lameness is highly infectious, with one in ten ewes lame in a flock. It’s important that you isolate lame sheep immediately and if you don’t get on top of it, then the infected sheep have to be killed. Look at using a footrot vaccine such as Footvax before they go indoors or in combination with an antibiotic treatment.

“If you have CODD, there is little point in treating it with normal antibiotics or using the vaccine. Once you have CODD, you have it for good and the only solution is to tackle it in large groups and put a treatment programme in place with your vet.”

John also spoke out on the importance of cleaning and disinfecting equipment from handling facilities to trailers. Trailers used in transporting sick or purchased sheep should be washed and disinfected between animals, while sheds and lambing facilities should be cleaned as early in the season as possible, minimising the risk of bacteria surviving. 

Colostrum quality, quantity and timing is also key to reducing antibiotic use. “The lamb that suckles off its own mother has more hope of survival and health than those you feed yourself with either a tube or bottle.”
In an ever challenging industry with input costs increasing, John concluded: “Keep infection out, infection costs money and the only way to make money is to have healthy sheep.”

The three basic antibiotics to stick to are penicillins, sulphonamides and oxytetracyclines.