For the last number of weeks we have been introducing people to the challenge of antibiotic resistance – what is it and how it affects people, animals and our environment. The idea of One Health is we are all in this together and individual actions can affect many more people than ourselves.
We share our bodies and environment with billions of bacteria. The vast majority of these are not harmful. Those that are harmful are smart and want to survive. When challenged by antibiotics, they can develop resistance to these products. These are life forms that have been around since long before the dinosaurs.
When we discovered antibiotics and began using them in the 1940s, they transformed human medicine. It is said antibiotics have added 20 years to human life expectancy. In the pre-antibiotic era, simple infections were life-threatening illnesses. This is not something we want to return to. By engaging with the One-Health concept, we can all work together to ensure antibiotics continue to work.
We want farmers to reduce their on-farm antibiotic use through better husbandry and management. This doesn’t have to make farms less profitable, as often overuse of antibiotics masks challenges that need to be addressed to make your farm more profitable. We must move beyond short-term disease solutions and start asking why disease is occurring.
Last month, UK farmers and vets announced they had reduced their use of antibiotics by 50% over five years. There has been only a slight decline in on-farm antibiotic use in Ireland over this period. We can do more and must do more.
Our antibiotic usage affects our farms and our families. Consultants in hospitals are seeing increasing issues in children and older people. Multi-resistant bugs are causing significant problems with conditions such as bladder infections. While we are not yet near a scenario where routine surgeries become untenable, we must do everything to protect antibiotics by using as little as possible but as much as necessary.
Farmers will need to use antibiotics and use them correctly for the best results. If we overuse them, we risk causing resistance on our farms. We share resistant bugs in our environment, which are a risk to ourselves and our families. We must think before we treat, we must think how we can get better by engaging with better animal health on our farms.
Since starting this campaign, I have begun to learn things myself about how important One Health actually is. Sadly, there are few farming families who haven’t been touched by cancer in the past or present. For many, chemotherapy has been a hard road, but has saved many lives. While these aggressive chemicals attack cancer cells, they also destroy the body’s immune system, meaning a cocktail of antibiotics helps while these chemical do their work.
For some this means they can get through, for others it simply means more time. Don’t underestimate that time and what it means to those who get it. This is one area where doctors really worry about being affected by antibiotic resistance. This series aims to make people think about how our decisions affect you, your farm and all our futures.