Improving Veterinary Antimicrobial Practices Will Help Combat Growing Global Health Issue

Veterinarians play a key role in combating the global risk of antimicrobial resistance, say researchers from the University of Washington School of Public Health. However, a new study shows that, while veterinarians are concerned about the threat of drug-resistant bugs, they face financial barriers to obtaining tests to guide therapy.

“Antimicrobial resistance is a global health threat affecting people, animals and the environment,” said Heather Fowler, lead author of the study and PhD student in the School’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences. “In the past, we have worked in silos to deal with this problem. We need veterinarians and human health clinicians to work together towards a model of ‘shared antibiotic stewardship’ across human, animal and environmental health in order to address this rising public health threat.”

In the United States, more than two million people are sickened every year by drug-resistant bugs, with at least 23,000 dying as a result, study authors noted. These bugs can spread from person to person, and between people and animals. A culture and sensitivity test is usually carried out to determine which drug will be most successful in treating a particular infection.

Between September and December 2015, Fowler and her fellow researchers administered a cross-sectional, anonymous survey to licensed veterinarians in Washington state. Based on the survey responses, researchers determined how often culture and sensitivity tests were ordered by a given participant and what influenced their decision to order the test.

More than 200 veterinarians, a majority of whom were engaged in small or exotic animal practice, completed the survey. Nearly a quarter of the participants reported not ever ordering diagnostic tests. Of those who endorsed using the diagnostic tool, only 17 percent used it at least 75 percent of the time.

The low frequency is at least partly explained by what most participants said was “the most common barrier to ordering the test:” how much it costs.

Researchers suggest further studies are required to develop more cost-effective diagnostic methods that can address the financial barrier. Also, combining antimicrobial resistance data on both humans and animals can be used to develop shared models of stewardship.

Other authors are Sally Trufan and Peter Rabinowitz from the School’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, as well as partners from the Washington State One Health Veterinary Workgroup.