Brian Lubbers has a different perspective than many in the cattle industry when it comes to antibiotics. A veterinarian and microbiologist at Kansas State University (KSU), Lubbers has seen firsthand how bacteria are adapting to today's available treatments, and he believes it's critical that antibiotics be treated with the same stewardship mindset as water and land.
Lubbers recently led an update of a project tracking changing populations and resistance levels of bacteria that cause bovine respiratory disease (BRD) in cattle. In samples tested at the university from 2010 to 2012, antibiotic resistance of the primary bacterium increased dramatically. The researcher reports seeing more than 50% of the isolates of one bovine respiratory pathogen coming through the KSU veterinary diagnostic lab as resistant to more than three classes of antibiotics. What that means, Lubbers says, is BRD has limited treatment options where this resistance is taking place.
Prolonging the effective use of antibiotics, both in humans and animals, will depend on how these tools are used going forward. Defining "antibiotic stewardship" is Step 1, Lubbers said.
He explained it as, "A continued commitment to reduced and refined use of antibiotics." It does not mean there is a one-size-fits-all plan for how to build an antibiotic stewardship plan, however.
"If you look at the beef industry, we have cow/calf, stocker, feedyards and combinations of all of those. We range from operations with a few head to more than 100,000 head. Trying to make one plan that works for all of these types of operations is not possible. You can make an average plan, but you miss folks on both ends, so stewardship must be customized to the individual operation," he stressed.
Stewardship plans are important, Lubbers added, because they allow the beef industry to show what is happening and why it is happening. A good plan would include steps for prevention, treatment and post-treatment follow-up. That part of the program is the most labor intensive yet, going forward, potentially the most valuable.
"Without a doubt, it's the hardest piece to do. It's the piece that takes the most work. For me, that piece is one of the things that dictates that these stewardship plans have to be operation-specific," Lubbers said. "Think of it this way: The FDA and pharmaceutical companies do a good job of proving efficacy before a product gets a label, but that doesn't mean the product works on every operation. So, from a stewardship and an economic aspect, every operator needs to be sure they are using the drugs that work the best for their operation and management style. The only way to know that is follow-up. Going forward, that has a lot of value."
Whether the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) will help producers make significant strides in terms of antibiotic stewardship is still unknown. Lubbers said getting a veterinarian involved at all levels when it comes to making use decisions about antibiotics is positive, and if this can be achieved the VFD will be a success in that way. He encourages veterinarians to work with producers to develop antibiotic stewardship plans as part of their overall program. Antibiotic stewardship plans as part of their overall programs.
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