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Rise in antimicrobial resistance

To meet a growing demand, animal husbandry has been intensified, with among other things, an increased reliance on the use of antimicrobials. Farmers use antimicrobials to treat and prevent infections for animals raised in crowded conditions but these drugs are also used to increase weight gain, and thus improve profitability.

This excessive and indiscriminate use of antimicrobials has serious consequences: the proportion of bacteria resistant to antimicrobials is rapidly increasing around the world. Drugs are losing their efficacy, with important consequences for the health of animals but also potentially for humans.

A team of researchers led by Thomas Van Boeckel, SNF Assistant Professor of Health Geography and Policy at ETH Zurich, has recently published a map of antimicrobial resistance in animals in low- and middle-income countries in the journal Science. Animals species resistance occurred for the common food-borne bacteria Salmonella, E coli, Campylobacter and Staphylococcus.

According to this study, the regions associated with high rates of antimicrobial resistance in animals are northeast China, northeast India, southern Brazil, Iran and Turkey. In these countries, the bacteria listed above are now resistant to a large number of drugs that are used not only in animals but also in human medicine. 

For their current study, the team of researchers from ETH, Princeton University and the Free University of Brussels gathered thousands of publications as well as unpublished veterinary reports from around the world. The researchers used this database to produce the maps of antimicrobial resistance.

As meat production continues to rise, the web platform could help target interventions against AMR and assist a transition to more sustainable farming practices in low- and middle-income countries. The rich countries of the Global North, where antimicrobials have been used since the 1950s, should help make the transition a success.

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