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Evidence base for antibiotic use research examined

Despite finding evidence that some interventions were effective, scientists found inconsistency in outcomes among trials across body of research examined.

A special issue of Animal Health Research Reviews turns the spotlight on the evidence base for using antibiotics to prevent illness in beef and dairy cattle, swine and broiler poultry, according to an announcement from Cambridge University Press, the publisher.

The scientists introducing the collection — Jan M. Sargeant and Charlotte B. Winder from the University of Guelph in Ontario and Annette M. O'Connor from Iowa State University — concluded that veterinarians and food-animal producers "know far too little about prevention or control measures, including antibiotic efficacy and antibiotic alternatives that could help to support antibiotic stewardship among animals."

The collection of 14 articles in the special issue — written by experts in the field from the U.S., Canada and beyond — examine publicly available evidence related to control of diseases in livestock and poultry. The open-source articles focus on management practices that are designed to keep animals healthy and, therefore, reduce the need to use antibiotics as well as looking at the administration of antimicrobials to prevent or control disease.

Despite finding evidence that some of the interventions were effective, the scientists found inconsistency in outcomes among trials across the body of research and highlighted serious concerns related to the completeness of reporting and trial design and execution that have been hidden in veterinary medicine for years, according to the announcement.

For some interventions, scientists found that the body of evidence of efficacy was compelling. For example, a study of existing clinical trials on the efficacy of teat sealants for dairy cows found that the products studied were likely to be effective for reducing mastitis. Similarly, several antibiotics were shown to be effective at controlling respiratory diseases among cattle, the announcement said.

However, other evidence was less compelling. For bovine respiratory disease in beef cattle, for example, scientists found no evidence that the current use of vaccines was effective. Similarly, for antibiotics and vaccines used to prevent bacterial respiratory disease in swine, the body of evidence was insufficient to determine whether or not these interventions were effective. The body of evidence was also lacking for litter management in poultry and preventive antibiotics for the treatment of Escherichia coli.

The reviews conducted as part of the special issue of Animal Health Research Reviews highlighted that more and better research on these issues is urgently needed to help guide decision-making on the best use of antibiotics in future, the announcement said.

"As the threat of antimicrobial resistance grows, stewardship of these vital drugs is increasingly important in both human and animal health," the editors concluded. "Important facets of antimicrobial stewardship include using antibiotics judiciously as well as taking measures to minimize the need to use antimicrobials at all."

They added that with limited resources for research in veterinary science, "it is essential that we maximize the value of trials by good conduct and reporting, consistent outcome measures and replication."

The open-access collection of articles is available in Animal Health Research Reviews.

Animal Health Research Reviews provides an international forum for the publication of reviews and commentaries on all aspects of animal health. Papers include in-depth analyses and broader overviews of all facets of health and science in both domestic and wild animals. Major subject areas include physiology and pharmacology, parasitology, bacteriology, food and environmental safety, epidemiology and virology. The journal is of interest to researchers involved in animal health, parasitologists, food safety experts and academics interested in all aspects of animal production and welfare.

Cambridge University Press is part of the University of Cambridge in the U.K. Its extensive peer-reviewed publishing lists comprise 50,000 titles covering academic research and professional development as well as school-level education and English language teaching.

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