Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska

Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska

The Responsible User of Antibiotics

July 12, 2012Animal Well-Being, Beef, Farmers and Ranchers

I am a take charge person.  I am a person of action.  I am a planner.  It is very difficult for me to let things go and not be in the driver’s seat.  There is nothing that shakes my world up more than one of my children having a serious illness.  I can handle it when I am sick, but it shakes my foundation when it is one of my kids.

Like any parent, when my kids get sick I have an unrelenting desire to get them well as quickly as possible.  As an animal caregiver, I also have a great desire to obtain and maintain good health in my animals. Depending on what the source of the infection is when they become sick, sometimes that involves the use of antibiotics.

Karyn’s pneumonia infection was a tough one for me for a couple of reasons:  First, she got as sick as I have ever seen one of my children get.  During the five days that we spent in the hospital, we spent almost half that time getting Karyn’s infection stable so that she could begin the slow process of healing.  Secondly, I watched as the number of antibiotics and support drugs increased steadily in an attempt to get her well.  While all of these drugs were necessary to support her and help her body fight the infection, it was a lot to give to a little girl.

It took a combination of antibiotics to impact Karyn’s infection.  When the IV antibiotic did not cause any positive response in combating the infection, she was started on a second antibiotic orally that was from a different class of antibiotics.  The first antibiotic was a cephalosporin (B-Lactam antimicrobial), and the second was erythromycin (a macrolide antimicrobial).  I am familiar with both of these classes or families of antibiotics because I have antibiotics from those classes at the feed yard to use to treat my cattle if they develop an illness.

The issue of antibiotic resistance in bacterial infections is currently a very hot topic and, like many concerned people, I think about how my personal choices impact the balance of antibiotic use and efficacy.  We all play a role in the antibiotic resistance issue because we all use antibiotics.  Antibiotics (antimicrobials) are everywhere from prescription drugs to hand sanitizer.  I believe that the question that we must ask ourselves is:  Do the positives of using antibiotics out -weigh the subsequent possible impact on the bacterial organisms that live in our environment?  Because I am both a mother and a cattle farmer, I think about the issue of antibiotic resistance both from an animal use standpoint and from a human use standpoint.

When I use antibiotics at the feed yard, I use them very carefully and under the advice of my veterinarian using Beef Quality Assurance practices.  I diligently follow the “Judicious Use of Antimicrobials” protocol that has been developed by scientists and veterinarians.  I believe that healthy cattle make healthy beef, and sometimes I need to use antibiotics to help my cattle fight an illness.  In this instance, I believe that the positive results of antibiotic use to cure illnesses in food animals out-weighs the very slight risk that this use will impact the future efficacy of the antibiotics.  I am very careful to use the antibiotics according to the label directions which goes a long way in protecting the efficacy of the products for future use.

As a mom looking at the antibiotic resistance issue, I am also careful about how I use antibiotics with myself and my family.  I do not rush my kids to the doctor every time they have a cold because I know that antibiotics are not efficacious in fighting viral infections.  When prescription antibiotics are necessary, I am very careful to follow the directions and make sure that I use them for the prescribed period of time.  I also do not use anti-bacterial hand sanitizer, and only use anti-bacterial soaps when I feel that it is really necessary.  I want to be careful about how I use bacteria fighting products, because I know that I need them to work when we are faced with a crisis like Karyn’s pneumonia.

The issue of antibiotic resistance is incredibly complex and I do not even begin to understand the many complexities that go into the equation, but I have always believed that a little bit of common sense goes a long way.  If we all do our part to wisely use the tools that science discovers to combat infection, then those tools will remain as effective as the naturally evolving environment allows them to be.  We all play an important role as there is no easy fix to this challenge.  My experience with Karyn’s illness has caused me to do some serious soul searching to ensure that I am doing my part to be a responsible user of antibiotics both as a mom and as a food animal caregiver.