PARMA, ITALY — Bacterial resistance to anti-microbials has increased in recent years worldwide, making it more difficult to treat some human and animal infections. So states a joint scientific opinion on anti-microbial resistance (A.M.R.) focused on infections transmitted to humans from animals and food (zoonoses) that was published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (E.C.D.C.), the European Food Safety Authority (E.F.S.A.), the European Medicines Agency (E.M.E.A.) and the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (S.C.E.N.I.H.R.).

Surveillance activities should be strengthened and new anti-microbials and strategies must be developed to combat the spread of resistance. Research is also needed on other strategies to control infectious diseases in animals, such as vaccination programs, the opinion states.

There is specific concern about bacterial resistance to antibiotics used in the treatment of Salmonella and Campylobacter infections — the two most reported zoonotic infections in Europe, and points out which antibiotics are considered of high concern for their treatment, the opinion states. Although the use of antibiotics is considered the main factor in the development of bacterial resistance, the use of biocides (including disinfectants, antiseptics and preservatives) may also contribute to bacterial resistance, the opinion continues.

"Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to public health in the European Union and a priority area of work at E.C.D.C.," said Dominique L. Monnet, senior expert and coordinator of the Antimicrobial Resistance and Healthcare-Associated Infections at E.C.D.C. "The major cause of antibiotic resistance in humans remains the use of antibiotics in human medicine. If the misuse and overuse of antibiotics continue, we will lose the means to treat serious infectious diseases."

The anti-microbial resistance opinion regarding zoonotic infections points out that globalization of food trade and frequent travel to countries outside the E.U. make it difficult to compare resistance data from surveillance programs at E.U. level and to assess the impact of those strains coming from outside the E.U. It also adds the differences in levels of anti-microbial resistance in the various E.U. countries make it difficult to have a single strategy to fight against this threat.

"Resistance is caused by the ability of bacteria to undergo changes, given their increasing exposure to anti-microbials used in human and veterinary medicine. Most anti-microbial-resistant strains of zoonotic bacteria are found in the gastrointestinal tract of healthy food animals, particularly poultry, pigs, and cattle," said Professor Dan Collins, chair of E.F.S.A.’s Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) Panel.

Food-borne infections caused by these bacteria very often originate from contamination during slaughter of animals or food processing. The opinion says at present there are no data available to demonstrate that the use of antibiotics in human medicine may also have an impact on the resistance of zoonotic bacteria.