Using Data to Drive Decisions

As popular headlines focus on the potential link between antibiotic resistance and usage of antibiotics in food animal production, it is more critical than ever for swine veterinarians and producers to work together to use antibiotics in the most effective and judicious ways possible.

The use of antibiotic sensitivity information has become an increasingly valuable tool in developing treatment protocols for pigs.

“For a long time, veterinarians have used antibiotic sensitivity assessments to assist in judging with which antibiotic would be effective in treating animals,” said Dr. Cameron Schmitt, Pipestone veterinarian.

For example, he said, if a barn with 1,000 pigs is experiencing issues with respiratory disease, the veterinarian may order a sensitivity assessment on samples from a pig that has died or been euthanized. A diagnostic report takes three to five days to be completed and typically shows the sensitivity of the organism to appropriate antibiotics.

A sensitivity assessment is conducted in a laboratory where a sample of bacteria from an infected animal is allowed to grow in a petri dish or test tube “broth” that contains an antibiotic.

“If the organism grows, we know that it is resistant to the antibiotic. If it isn’t able to grow, the antibiotic is effective against that bacteria,” he said.

Knowing which antibiotics the bacteria are sensitive to is a critical step in determining potential treatments, but understanding the pharmacology of each antibiotic option is also important.

“A certain drug may kill the organism in question, but if it is given orally, the drug doesn’t get to the site of the infection to effectively kill the organism,” he said. “There are several antibiotics that may show to be effective in a sensitivity assessment, but those are poorly absorbed when given orally.”

The combination of test results, animal and barn observations and understanding of how available antibiotic options will work, can provide a veterinarian and farmer with options to make the best decision for the health of the animals.

Veterinarians at Pipestone see potential for antibiotic sensitivity assessment results to provide information that will help not just on individual farms, but in identifying trends in antibiotic resistance on a much larger scale.

“We are beginning to track what we know about antibiotic resistance on a broader level,” said Dr. Schmitt. “If we look at thousands of isolates over time, we may be able to see patterns and trends that will help us get to the science behind antibiotic resistance for both animal and human health.”

The PART (Pipestone Antibiotic Resistance Tracker) program launched in 2017 is a first step in gathering important data. More than 180 subscribers representing 3.2 million pigs are currently tracking both purchase and usage of all types of antibiotic products including water soluble, feed additives and injectables.

Gathering and analyzing data necessary to track usage and resistance trends is a significant undertaking. Dr. Schmitt said that Pipestone plans to compile and publish research findings with shareholders, as well as with academics and industry representatives.

“We’re focused on putting science in front of the rhetoric,” said Dr. Schmitt. “We don’t want producers to stop using antibiotics just because someone said they should. Instead we need to build a scientific basis for making decisions that benefit both human health and animal welfare.”