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Prophylactic or Metaphylactic Use


It is not uncommon for veterinarians to give antibiotics to animals that are not currently ill with a particular disease, but are at high risk of acquiring an infection.  For example, an animal may be treated with antibiotics after having undergone surgery or injurious trauma (prophylaxis) or herds and flocks may be given antibiotics if they are at risk of suffering an outbreak of infectious disease due to exposure to disease agents or extremely unfavorable host or environmental conditions (metaphylaxis).  In companion animal veterinary medicine, antibiotics are commonly used to control secondary bacterial invasions such as during surgical procedures and managing infection-promoting disease conditions such as urolithiasis.  In poultry and livestock, mass administration of antibiotics is often practiced when transporting or moving young animals, during dry-cow therapy in dairy cows and in preventing respiratory and intestinal maladies when animals have been subjected to severely stressful conditions. 

Prophylactic or metaphylactic use of antibiotics can be a substantial aid in the control and prevention of numerous animal diseases in both food and companion animals. However, this use of antibiotics should never be intended to replace the need for good management practices, given that the use of antibiotics will eventually lead to resistance.  As was the case with therapeutic uses of antimicrobials, issues to be considered when deciding whether or not to use an antibiotic include knowledge of the pathogen involved and knowledge of the antibiotic’s properties given the species of animal and its intended use for food or companionship. 

Prudent use of antimicrobials, which is also referred to as “judicious use” or “antimicrobial stewardship”, is the optimal selection of drug, dose and duration of antimicrobial treatment, along with reduction of the inappropriate and excessive use as a means of slowing the emergence of antimicrobial resistance (Shales et al., 1997 as cited by Weese JS, 2006).

Although this may be more straightforward for human medicine, the nature by which antimicrobials are utilized in animals and the influences of various stakeholders in the standards by which these are raised, make such practice more complicated for veterinary medicine.  The prudent use of antimicrobials in veterinary medicine are principled guidelines created to prevent abusive use of antimicrobials in animals, primarily to curb or mitigate the imminent risk of breeding resistant microorganisms unresponsive to currently available chemotherapy in both animals and humans.   Veterinarians are on the forefront of upholding such manner of use having dual roles of protecting animals from pain and suffering, while safeguarding the interest of the public health.  

More details on antimicrobial practices and prudent use in particular animal species can be found in the modules on clinical applications.



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