Tonight’s TV: Teagasc researcher sheds light on threat of superbugs

Teagasc researcher Dr. Laura Boyle, based in Moorepark, is exploring ways to improve animal welfare and reduce antibiotic use on pig farms. Dr. Boyle features with farmer Eugene Sheehan in episode three of the TV programme ’10 things to know about … Superbugs’ tonight on RTE One at 8:30pm.

This episode will look into the alarming rise of superbugs in recent years.

It is vital that humans reduce our use of antibiotics in healthcare, but agriculture continues to be one of the major factors in the spread of antibiotic resistance, according to Teagasc, noting that many farmers add antibiotics to their animal feed to reduce the risk of disease.

In the episode, presenter Kathriona Devereaux meets Boyle – who is exploring the link between poor welfare and antimicrobial usage on Irish pig farms – and visits a pig farm that has dramatically reduced its use of antibiotics without having any effect on the animals’ welfare.

Boyle explained: “Stress associated with commercial production methods challenges pigs’ behavioural and immunological coping mechanisms placing them at risk of health problems. Hence, antibiotics are crucial to treating disease in modern production systems.

However, inadequate management and housing practices exacerbate challenges to pig health such that there is an over-reliance on antibiotics to control disease on some farms.

“By optimising the way in which we manage and house pigs, we can improve their welfare and, in turn, their resistance to disease, thereby reducing antibiotic use,” the Teagasc researcher added.

The rise in antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is globally recognised as one of the greatest potential threats to human health.

No new class of antibiotic has been found since 1987, and in February 2017, the UN’s World Health Organization released its first ever list of the World’s Most Dangerous Superbugs, said: “Within a generation, without new antibiotics, deaths from drug-resistant infection could reach 10 million a year.

Without new medicines to treat deadly infection, lifesaving treatments like chemotherapy and organ transplant, and routine operations like caesareans and hip replacements, will be potentially fatal.

Presenter Aoibhinn Ni Shuilleabhain travels to Geneva to meet Dr. Marc Sprenger, director of antimicrobial resistance at the World Health Organization to find out more about the AMR threat, and what is being done to fight back.

Referencing the incredible surgical advances that has been made over the last few decades, Dr. Sprenger underscores the “genuinely frightening concept that we could be on the brink of returning to the dark ages in terms of medicine and healthcare”, according to the show organisers.

In Ireland, presenter Jonathan McCrea meets Prof. Martin Cormican, NUIG microbiologist and HSE health care associated infection national lead, to discuss some of the reasons for the emergence and spread of AMR, and what Irish people could and should be doing about it. Margaret Dawson, who lost her husband Joe to MRSA last year, will also be interviewed.

Every day, antibiotics and resistant bacteria are being flushed into wastewater systems but incredibly, treatment plants have no controls or regulations in place anywhere in the world for removing antibiotics and resistant bacteria from wastewater.

EPA researcher Fiona Walsh will discuss her role in a European project to better understand and quantify the issue of AMR in the environment.

The first of its kind anywhere in the world, this project will quantify the spread of antibiotic resistance across Europe and offer solutions to remove them from waste.

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