Completed research project: AntibioticScout.ch optimises antibiotic use in animals
Thanks to AntibioticScout.ch, veterinarians have been able to optimise their use of antibiotics. The online tool will be continued and expanded.
Cats should also only be given antibiotics when it is really necessary. Picture: Vetsuisse Faculty, UZH, Michelle Aimée Fesch
Need for antibiotic stewardship in veterinary medicine
As with people, companion animals and livestock are given antibiotics when sick. The drugs are often prescribed when it is not medically appropriate or even though alternatives are available. This unnecessarily encourages the emergence of antibiotic resistance, which also becomes problematic for humans. Optimised prescribing practices in veterinary medicine could counteract this problem without reducing the care given to animals.
Antibiotic stewardship is an efficient way to address this issue: broad-based programmes that support veterinarians in the rational and targeted use of antibiotics according to established guidelines. Online tools have proven to be effective in other areas of veterinary medicine. They guide users through complex decision-making processes in a simple manner. In addition, it is relatively easy to keep them up to date.
Impact of the new online tool
Against this background, Hanspeter Nägeli and his team have developed the online tool AntibioticScout.ch. The recommendations on the selection, dosage, application and duration of antibiotic use were drawn up by expert committees under the patronage of the Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office. They based their work on existing recommendations of national and international specialist organisations. Since 2016, AntbioticScout.ch has been available to all veterinarians. It is integrated into the pharmacology/toxicology information system of the Vetsuisse Faculty, which is well established among practitioners. Initially limited to the treatment of farm animals, the researchers later extended it to include companion animals, exotic animals and horses.
The main objective of the study was to determine whether AntibioticScout.ch leads to a more rational use of antibiotics. To this end, the researchers focused on a number of indications in calves, cats and dogs which frequently - and often unnecessarily - lead to the prescription of critical antibiotics. Over a period of two years, they systematically collected and analysed data from several private practices as well as from the university animal hospitals in Zurich and Bern.
Positive effect despite some scepticism
The results show that the use of antibiotics decreased for all animal species during the two-year observation period following the introduction of AntibioticScout.ch and that the drugs have been prescribed more responsibly. In the treatment of cats and calves, veterinarians were less likely to use critical antibiotics which should be reserved for human use if possible.
However, the use of antibiotics could be further optimised. What's more, the scope for reducing antibiotic use in calves seems to be limited because the most common fattening systems in Switzerland tolerate the development of diseases that require treatment. On another note, a survey among veterinarians, conducted as part of the project, shows that services such as AntibioticScout.ch are sometimes viewed critically and are not yet used to their full extent.
All the same, AntibioticScout.ch has already had a significant effect in a relatively short time. Looking at the near future, an even greater impact can realistically be expected. The tool will be further developed with the support of the Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office. An interesting feature is the feedback option: reports about failing treatments can point to emerging antibiotic resistances at an early stage. In addition, AntibioticScout.ch is now being used in veterinary training and continued education.