Introduction to antibiotics and AMR

Animals, like people, are susceptible to infections by many different disease causing organisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. Antimicrobial drugs are medicines that act against this wide range of infections, such as those caused by bacteria (antibiotics), viruses (antivirals), fungi (antifungals) and parasites (guidance for parasite control in sheep and cattle).

Antimicrobial resistance, or AMR, arises when the micro-organisms which cause infection are able to survive treatment by a medicine that would normally kill them or stop them growing.  AMR is a serious, shared global problem.  Resistance is a natural process, exacerbated by widespread therapeutic use of antimicrobials. Within this,  antibiotic resistance is the ability of bacteria to grow or survive in the presence of an antibiotic that is usually sufficient to inhibit or kill bacteria of that species.

Antibiotics are vital in managing severe infections. A world in which their usefulness is lessened or lost completely is a frightening but realistic possibility. Modern medicine would look very different, for example, in both humans and animals:

  • simple infections could prove life threatening
  • operations would carry a much higher risk of complication or death
  • cancer chemotherapy without effective antibiotics to support patients through infections would become as deadly as the disease itself

Additionally, in animals untreatable infections could:

  • impact very seriously on animal welfare
  • wipe out entire herds
  • on farms, reduce yields leading to economic ruin


Key considerations

There are key considerations regarding antibiotics and antibiotic resistance.

  • We have no new medicines to treat these new resistant organisms (for example,  no new antibiotics since 1987)
  • Like other bacteria, bacteria which are resistant to antibiotics can be transferred between animals, and can survive in the environment. Some resistant bacteria can spread from animals to people and vice versa.
  • Inappropriate, unnecessary use of antibiotics and under-dosing can lead to worsening of an animal’s condition, and may allow the bacteria to become resistant to that antibiotic.
  • Responsible use of antibiotics, when they are necessary, by everybody, will help to reduce the spread of antibiotic resistance.



We will look at actions which you can take: