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).

Is antimicrobial resistance a growing problem?

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.

Can resistance transfer from animals to humans?

It is possible that antibiotic resistance in animals can be transferred to humans via food. The extent to which this occurs for different resistant bacteria is not yet known. However, this is an important reason for drastically reducing the use of antibiotics in livestock.

How much antibiotics are used in livestock?

The use of veterinary antibiotics has fallen sharply in recent years in the Netherlands. In the years 2009 - 2019, sales have decreased by 69.6%, according to the MARAN report 2020. Antibiotics that are important for treating infections in humans have hardly been used for animals in recent years. The decrease in resistance in animals shows the same decrease as the antibiotic use in animals.

How much antibiotics are prescribed to humans?

According to the most recent NethMap/MARAN report, in 2019 GPs have prescribed slightly less antibiotics than in the previous years. Total antibiotic use is still increasing slightly in hospitals.

Why is more research needed?

Although the use of antibiotics in animals has declined significantly in recent years and their use in humans is stable, research into use and resistance remains desirable. This will ensure that we can take the right measures to ensure that Dutch people can continue to be properly treated with antibiotics against bacterial infections.

What does WBVR research?

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

Read more 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.