Dr. Scott Dee, DVM
Dr. Scott Dee, DVM

The topic of antimicrobial resistance has been peppered in the media channels over the last several years. The fact that 23,000 people die every year from antimicrobial resistance is definitely one that has caught people’s attention – whether it’s consumers, farmers, veterinarians, doctors, or researchers. 

Being in research is like playing detective. You’re proposed a question and challenged to piece clues together to find an answer. It is by far the favorite part of my job, having worked in research and as the Director of Research at Pipestone for the last five years.

The detective “case” of antimicrobial resistance is not one easily solved. There are a lot of researchers and organizations trying to piece together the clues of the antibiotic resistance case with much to learn. Pipestone is committed to doing our part to combat antibiotic resistance, and one way to do that is through research. We want to better understand antibiotic resistance, what research is out there, and how we in the livestock industry can do our part.  And when it comes to a new and challenging topic, sometimes you have to start with the basics.

What is Antibiotic Resistance?
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is the ability of a bacteria to resist the effects of a medicine previously used to treat it. Resistant bacteria are a significant problem which calls for the use of alternative medicines and/or higher doses, which increases both cost and the risk of toxicity. AMR arises in many ways, known and unknown, including bacterial mutation or the transfer of DNA in the form of a plasmid. Some bacteria can become resistant to several antibiotics, resulting in “multi-resistant superbugs.”

What Causes Antimicrobial Resistance?
One of the known causes of AMR is the use of antibiotics over time in both human and animal medicine. However, there is also a lot of information that is unknown about AMR. 

At this time, it is public perception that the use of antibiotics in livestock production is a means by which AMR is generated; however, this may not be true. A report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) identified the most concerning public health threats from antibiotic resistant bacteria. None of these most urgent threats have any relation to livestock.

According to a recent report from National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cited several positive trends regarding antimicrobial resistance patterns in bacteria isolated from meat samples, specifically:

1.      New lows in the levels of Salmonella and Campylobacter recovered from retail poultry (chicken and turkey) meat.

2.      A high degree (80%) of susceptibility to all tested antibiotics in cultured Salmonella isolates.

3.      A decline in multi-drug resistant Salmonella recovered from retail poultry meat.

4.      No issues detected in pork meat.

5.      Overall resistance continues to remain low for most human infections.

While these are clearly encouraging trends, we as members of the pork industry must continue to strive for the practice of responsible use of antimicrobials each and every day, and allow the principles of “antimicrobial stewardship” to become an essential way of life.

What are we doing to better understand AMR?

In addition to on-farm stewardship, research efforts to unlock the mysteries of AMR continue to move forward. Perhaps most exciting is the use of a new molecular-based technology called “metagenomics” to detect and measure the presence of genes that code for resistance at the level of the individual bacteria. This approach may allow us to measure changes in resistance within healthy animal populations as well as at the level of the environment, rather than only looking at individual bacteria samples recovered from sick pigs. I find this aspect of diagnostic investigation particularly intriguing and will be spending time learning more about it through visits to research laboratories that specialize in this topic in 2017.

Keep posted for future updates on my antibiotic resistance detective work!