Together with Sweden, Norway and Iceland, Finland is one of the countries using antibiotics the least. Here, as in Sweden and Norway, penicillin is used above all else, and antibiotics are usually administered to animals as injections, while elsewhere it is more usual to give the drug with feed or drinking water.
The situation in Finland is good compared to many other countries, although the use of antibiotics has increased here. The Finnish Medicines Agency Fimea has monitored the sales volumes of animal antibiotics in Finland since 1995. In 2011, 18,700 kg of veterinary antimicrobial drugs were sold in Finland, more than ever before in the 2000s. The increase on the previous year was almost 2,000 kg. However, the consumption figures per animal species are not available.
Bacterial resistance in animals
Antibiotic use increases bacterial resistance. Bacteria are well able to protect themselves from antibiotics. Bacteria can obtain or develop various resistance factors to protect them from antibiotics. These factors can be transmitted between bacterial species. Multiresistant bacteria are resistant to antibiotics from several groups.
Antibiotic use also furthers the spread of resistant bacteria. The antibiotic kills susceptible bacteria or inhibit their growth, but has no effect on resistant bacteria. The resistant bacteria multiply disproportionately, as competition for living space and nutrition decreases. The problem is particularly great when using broad-spectrum antibiotics that affect many bacterial species.
In Europe and other parts of the world, multiresistant bacteria have increasingly been found in animals. In particular, the occurrence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and broad-spectrum beta-lactamase enzyme (ESBL, AmpC) -producing bacteria in production animals is almost common in some areas. In Finland, too, these bacteria have been found in production animals, albeit clearly to a lesser degree than in many other countries. Companion animals carry methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus pseudintermedius (MRSP), which in recent years has become common in Finland, especially in dogs. MRSP is often multiresistant and at worst susceptible only to one or two antibiotics.
Sick animals must always be given appropriate treatment. As a result of increased antibiotic resistance, we may end up in a situation where there is no drug left that is effective against a bacterium. In such an event, the health and welfare of animals are jeopardised.
Humans and animals are mostly treated using the same antibiotics. Some of the bacteria are also common to both. Similarly, just the resistance factors can be transmitted from one bacterial species to another. Thus, the impact of antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance does not end with the individual that is given antibiotics or that has been found with resistant bacteria.
Keeping antibiotics effective requires cooperation
As part of the programme for European Antibiotic Awareness Day in 2010, Evira organised a seminar on antibiotics. The outcome of the seminar was a declaration reminding us that keeping antibiotics effective does not happen as a matter of course, but it requires concerted measures by all parties. The declaration is still topical and important.
The increase of bacterial resistance can be curbed by responsible antibiotic use and on the other hand by reducing the need to use antibiotics. The cornerstones of responsible use of antibiotics are taking samples, bacterial species identification, and study of bacterial susceptibility. Depending on the results, an antibiotic is chosen that is the most suitable to treat the disease and as narrow-spectrum as possible. And when antibiotics are used, they must be used at the correct dosage and for a sufficiently long period.
Taking care of animal health and welfare and improving their housing conditions reduces the need for antibiotics. Vaccines can be used to prevent many diseases. Solutions in animal housing design and animal care are selected that promote animal health and immunity, as well as reduce their exposure to pathogens. Animal health must also be one of the goals in breeding. A healthy animal whose welfare is well taken care of is also safer for humans.