Why is Antimicrobial Resistance in Pigs Not so Important for Public Health?

The contribution of pigs to human resistance of key antibiotics is likely to be about 0.00034 per cent, which is a remarkably small amount, according to David G.S. Burch of Octagon Services Ltd in the UK.
calendar icon 9 November 2012
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In recent years, there has been growing concern over the potential spread of antimicrobial resistance from the use of antibiotics in animals to humans and that they may play a significant role in causing resistance in man, according to Dr Burch. He presented his study on the impacts of antimicrobial resistance in pigs on public healths at the Societa Italiana di Patologia ed Allevamento dei Suini (SIPAS) Meeting in Parma, Italy in October 2012.

Lay press have expressed up to 70 per cent of resistance seen in Man may come from the agricultural use of antibiotics, even risk assessment reports to governments say there is no hard evidence but an approximate estimate of 33 to 50 per cent of resistance may come from the agricultural sector.

"The resistance rate of 'critically important’ antimicrobials is about two per cent (zero to six per cent), then contribution to human resistance of key antibiotics is likely to be about 0.00034 per cent (0.0 to 0.001 per cent), which is a remarkably small amount."

The author explains that the purpose of this paper is to evaluate the potential risk of the transmission of infections from pigs to Man, either directly or via pig meat using an epidemiological basis. This could then be compared with the incidence of diseases in Man caused mainly by bacteria and are likely to be treated with antibiotics.

Data evaluation showed that pigs could be accountable for infections in man, especially personnel working directly with pigs. Regarding the general public, the figure was much lower at 0.0031 per cent on a population basis, which is equivalent to 3.1 people in every 100,000.

Human infections occur and are treated with antibiotics in approximately 16.34 per cent of cases on a population basis, or 16,340 people out of 100,000. Therefore, pigs cause 0.019 per cent of human cases and if all infections were resistant to antimicrobials, this would be the contribution of resistance transmission.

If the concern was just for 'critical use' antibiotics, the figure would be as low as 0.00034 per cent if a figure of two per cent resistance is used.

Dr Burch concludes that this is the reason why antimicrobial resistance transfer to the general human population from pigs can be considered of minor importance in comparison with the direct use of antimicrobials in man by doctors in the community and in hospitals.

Further Reading

You can view the full paper by clicking here.

November 2012
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