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Int J Antimicrob Agents. 2000 May;14(4):327-35.

Epidemiology of resistance to antibiotics. Links between animals and humans.

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Department of Medical Microbiology, University of Maastricht, P.O. Box 616, NL-6200 MD, Maastricht, The Netherlands.


An inevitable side effect of the use of antibiotics is the emergence and dissemination of resistant bacteria. Most retrospective and prospective studies show that after the introduction of an antibiotic not only the level of resistance of pathogenic bacteria, but also of commensal bacteria increases. Commensal bacteria constitute a reservior of resistance genes for (potentially) pathogenic bacteria. Their level of resistance is considered to be a good indicator for selection pressure by antibiotic use and for resistance problems to be expected in pathogens. Resistant commensal bacteria of food animals might contaminate, like zoonotic bacteria, meat (products) and so reach the intestinal tract of humans. Monitoring the prevalence of resistance in indicator bacteria such as faecal Escherichia coli and enterococci in different populations, animals, patients and healthy humans, makes it feasible to compare the prevalence of resistance and to detect transfer of resistant bacteria or resistance genes from animals to humans and vice versa. Only in countries that use or used avoparcin (a glycopeptide antibiotic, like vancomycin) as antimicrobial growth promoter (AMGP), is vancomycin resistance common in intestinal enterococci, not only in exposed animals, but also in the human population outside hospitals. Resistance genes against antibiotics, that are or have only been used in animals, i.e. nourseothricin, apramycin etc. were found soon after their introduction, not only in animal bacteria but also in the commensal flora of humans, in zoonotic pathogens like salmonellae, but also in strictly human pathogens, like shigellae. This makes it clear that not only clonal spread of resistant strains occurs, but also transfer of resistance genes between human and animal bacteria. Moreover, since the EU ban of avoparcin, a significant decrease has been observed in several European countries in the prevalence of vancomycin resistant enterococci in meat (products), in faecal samples of food animals and healthy humans, which underlines the role of antimicrobial usage in food animals in the selection of bacterial resistance and the transport of these resistances via the food chain to humans. To safeguard public health, the selection and dissemination of resistant bacteria from animals should be controlled. This can only be achieved by reducing the amounts of antibiotics used in animals. Discontinuing the practice of routinely adding AMGP to animal feeds would reduce the amounts of antibiotics used for animals in the EU by a minimum of 30% and in some member states even by 50%.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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