Every year more than 25,000 European citizens die from infections caused by bacteria that have developed resistance towards antimicrobials. Treatments that used to work efficiently have lost their effect. One of the big sinners is overuse of antimicrobials for human and for veterinary purposes.
The importance of antibiotics
Modern life is closely connected to the use of antibiotics. They cure diseases such as pneumonia and bacterial abdominal infections, and are indispensable in connection with major surgery.
Modern livestock farming is also dependent on antibiotics as animals may get ill exactly like us. Animals, that previously would die or be killed, are now cured and able to reproduce and be delivered at slaughterhouses. Altogether: If antibiotics lose their potency, we lose a fundamental basis of modern society.
Development of resistance
There is an inherent risk for the development of bacterial resistance when using antibiotics. When bacteria are exposed to antibiotics they try to defend themselves by altering their genes in order to develop resistance. The more antibiotics used, the greater the risk of resistance developing. And the risk is even greater when using broad-spectrum antibiotics that attack a broad variety of bacteria.
Antibiotic use in Denmark
The veterinary sector in Denmark has a relatively low use of antibiotics compared to many other EU countries. Although the use of antibiotics for animals increased through the 00s the trend has now reversed. Things are different in the human health sector where recent years have shown an increase in the use of antibiotics including the broad-spectrum antibiotics. At the same time we see an increased development of resistance among ordinary intestinal bacteria. This means that in the future we may face a reality where it is very difficult to treat e.g. an ordinary urinary tract infection.
Surveillance and guidelines
If we want to preserve the ability to treat serious diseases with antibiotics, we must stop the misuse and overuse of antibiotics and focus on an appropriate use. Some of the tools, which have been successfully used in Denmark, are surveillance, guidelines and restrictions on the use of antimicrobials in general and on the critically important antibiotics in particular.
Time for joint action
Resistant bacteria do not respect borders and can spread through many routes. Increased international trade with both food and live animals, travelling for business and leisure purposes as well as health treatments abroad contributes actively to the spread of resistant bacteria.
Furthermore, certain resistant bacteria (zoonotic bacteria) can be transmitted from animals to humans through direct contact and through food.
The combat against excessive use of antibiotics and the development of resistance calls for joint action across countries and sectors. This was the overall focus of the conference on antimicrobial resistance held in Copenhagen 14 – 15 March, 2012.
The EU countries agree that it is important to take action against the threat of antimicrobial resistance, which has been reflected in the adoption of Council conclusions on 22 June, 2012.