COMMENTARY

Antibiotics in Animals: Now Harder to Get

Paul G. Auwaerter, MD, MBA

Disclosures

December 26, 2013

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Hello. I am Paul Auwaerter, speaking for Medscape Infectious Diseases from the Johns Hopkins Division of Infectious Diseases in Baltimore.

Imagine if you lived in a country where you could get antibiotics without involving a doctor. You can merely walk into the store and get an antibiotic that you think might help solve your problem. Or perhaps you had a child who was really skinny and wanted to fatten them up and thought that maybe giving them an antibiotic for a while might do so.

Antibiotics are often available in many countries of the world without prescription. Indeed, studies[1] have suggested that unless you live in North America or Northern Europe, that kind of access may be the reality.

But the scenario I just mentioned actually does hold true in the United States if you are an owner of livestock or involved in managing all sorts of animals or raising pigs, cattle, chickens, and so on. Antibiotics can be purchased for livestock without any involvement of veterinarians.

A number of studies- have linked foodborne pathogens and the common administration of antibiotics to help enhance animal growth rather than for treating disease.[1,2,3] The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has finally issued guidance,[4,5] which is only of a voluntary nature, to pharmaceutical companies recommending that the drugs only be available by prescription from a veterinarian.

We hope this means that the use of antibiotics for animal growth alone would be curtailed. Some skeptics have mentioned that this guidance is voluntary, and that certainly antibiotics can still be given for what is called "disease avoidance" or "prevention." Thus, this recommendation may not really diminish the tonnage of antibiotics that are given to animals here in the United States.

The experience in Europe is a bit checkered. Several countries have stricter rules, but only in The Netherlands -- which has levied fines if antibiotics are used improperly for animal husbandry -- has the amount of antibiotics seemingly declined.

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