Gaining insight into the risks and control of antibiotic use antibiotics antibiotic resistance antimicrobial resistance

Antibiotic resistance

Antibiotics are drugs that kill bacteria or inhibit their growth. This gives the immune system time to clean up an infection. Bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics and this resistance can be transmitted to other bacteria. As a result, infections with these antibiotic-resistant bacteria are more difficult to treat. The use of antibiotics in livestock farming can thus entail risks for humans and animals.

This page contains relevant information about antibiotic use, monitoring and research by Wageningen Bioveterinary Research (WBVR).

Antimicrobial resistance

Bacterial resistance to commonly used antimicrobials in people without a history of antibiotic treatment or hospital stay is on the increase. Bacteria with antibiotic resistant traits that are located on mobile genetic  elements (plasmids) are a particular concern. These plasmids can easily be exchanged between bacteria,  contributing to spread of antibiotic resistance. This could also lead to multi-drug resistant (MDR) bacteria due to the accumulation of different antibiotic resistance genes. The use of antibiotics in farm animals  enhances the selection for MDR bacteria, which increases the risk of transmission to humans.

Spread of antibiotic resistance

Bacterial resistance to commonly used antimicrobials in people without a history of antibiotic treatment or hospital stay is on the increase. Bacteria with antibiotic resistant traits that are located on mobile genetic elements (plasmids) are a particular concern. These plasmids can easily be exchanged between bacteria, contributing to spread of antibiotic resistance. This could also lead to multi-drug resistant (MDR) bacteria due to the accumulation of different antibiotic resistance genes. The use of antibiotics in farm animals enhances the selection for MDR bacteria, which increases the risk of transmission to humans.

Take a look at our infographic
Take a look at our infographic

Reducing antibiotics use in livestock

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria from animals, specifically livestock, can spread to humans. Although the extent of this problem is still unknown for the various resistant bacteria, it’s still an important reason for drastically reducing the use of antibiotics in livestock. Veterinary antibiotic use has indeed fallen sharply since 2009. Despite this favourable development, it is remains a priority to study antibiotic resistance in humans and animals.

Yearly monitoring via NethMap/MARAN

In 2009, the Dutch government launched a programme with the primary aim of reducing antibiotic resistance. To achieve this aim, it is important to make the antibiotic use explicit –measurable – and to report on this use annually.
To ensure that people in the Netherlands can continue to be treated with antibiotics for bacterial infections, intensive research and effective monitoring are required.

- Unfortunately, your cookie settings do not allow videos to be displayed. - check your settings

View the Nethmap/MARAN reports

Numbers on human use

According to the most recent NethMap/MARAN report, the number of infections in humans with resistant bacteria has remained stable. However, there is concern about an increase in the number of outbreaks of resistant bacteria in hospitals or nursing homes. In 2016, the consumption of antibiotics prescribed by general practitioners fell by approximately 2% relative to 2015. In hospitals in the Netherlands, total antibiotic use remained stable. 

Numbers on veterinary use

The use of antibiotics in livestock farming has fallen sharply since 2009. Between 2009 and 2017, sales of veterinary antibiotics fell by 63.4%.This reduction in veterinary use has contributed to a decline in antibiotic resistance found in livestock and livestock products.

  • Compared to 2015, antibiotic use in 2016 fell significantly in nearly all sectors. Moreover, the veterinary use of antibiotics that are critically important for humans (especially third and fourth generation cephalosporins) has been reduced to an absolute minimum.
  • Antibiotic resistance has continued to decline in the pork and poultry sectors and has stabilised in veal calves and dairy cattle. In the latter sector, antibiotic resistance has been at a low, stable level for several years.
  • The decline in veterinary antibiotic use during the last seven years is reflected in the continuing decline in antibiotic resistance found in livestock and livestock products.

The role of Wageningen Bioveterinary Research

At Wageningen Bioveterinary Research the occurrence, spread and prevention of  antimicrobial resistance in bacteria of animal origin is studied. We use state-of-the-art techniques, like sequencing all antibiotic resistance genes in a population (resistome), genotyping resistant bacteria and plasmids, as well as traditional resistance tests and risk assessment studies. Dedicated microarrays to determine presence of resistance genes in a microbial population are available.

Read about microbiota composition

Antimicrobial resistance genes are widely spread in bacterial populations like intestinal or oropharyngeal microbiota. Resistance genes can therefore be exchanged between commensals and pathogens within these communities. At Wageningen Bioveterinary Research we determine the microbiota composition and resistome of several bacterial communities. The effect of interventions that influence microbiota composition (such as feed and probiotics) on antimicrobial resistant organisms and the number of resistance genes is also included in our studies.

National Reference Laboratory

Wageningen Bioveterinary Research plays an important role in the monitoring. We operate as the National Preference Laboratory (NRL) for antibiotic resistance in animals.

Read more about our role as NRL

This involves a large number of reference tasks such as managing reference collections of bacterial strains and performing collaborative benchmarking studies.

These studies aim to standardise the antibiotic sensitivity tests performed at veterinary diagnostic laboratories and to improve the quality of these laboratories. This involves intensive collaboration, both in the Netherlands and abroad, with various institutes.

Additionally, NRL researchers participate in a number of project groups, and the national laboratory advises various policy agencies in this field.