Antibiotic stewardship and the responsible use of antibiotics has never been more important! Antibiotics are prescribed globally in both the human and Veterinary field to target infections. The Vet ‘Protect-Me’ scheme helps to support working Veterinarians in the responsible use of antibiotics and helps to minimise resistance. This article will cover what the Protect-Me scheme is, how it applies to general practice and it will hopefully broaden your awareness of the importance of controlling antibiotic usage in your pet. 

What is the ‘Protect-Me’ scheme?

It is recommended globally that Veterinary Surgeons implement a practice policy to ensure the responsible prescribing of antibiotics/antimicrobials to patients under their care. This is why the ‘Protect-Me’ scheme was launched in 2012 by the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) and the Small Animal Medicine Society (SAMSoc). This scheme is now also utilised globally in practices as a structured method for Vets to follow when considering prescribing antibiotics.

What does ‘Protect-Me’ stand for?

The acronym ‘Protect-Me’ represents a collaboration of principles which together ensures the responsible use of antimicrobials:

Prescribe only when necessary 

Antibiotics should only be prescribed when there is a confirmed or highly suspected bacterial infection. Antibiotics do not target viruses, for example. 

Reduce prophylaxis 

‘Prophylaxis’ is a common medical term used to describe a treatment which is given or action taken to prevent disease. For example, some Vets prescribe antibiotics in immunocompromised patients who have a reduced ability to fight off infections. It is important that antimicrobials are not over-prescribed as a ‘prevention’ method because this can easily lead to the overuse of antibiotics and therefore the development of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). 

Offer other options 

Considering alternative methods of treatment is recommended as other types of products such as topical treatments may be more suitable than prescribing a systemic antibiotic course.

Treat effectively 

In order to encourage the effectiveness of an antibiotic, ensuring the correct drug dosage (not under dosing!) and duration of treatment is vital. Often pet Owners have a tendency to stop administering antibiotics to their pet because they appear healthy and have improved, however, it is recommended to complete any course given. Not completing an antibiotic course and regular stopping and starting of treatment is a huge risk factor for developing antibiotic resistance.

Employ narrow spectrum 

the term ‘narrow spectrum’ refers to antibiotics that are only effective against a specific or limited number and type of bacteria. In contrast, ‘broad spectrum’ refers to antibiotics target a wider range of bacteria. It is advised to use narrow spectrum antibiotics where appropriate and to safeguard the wider spectrum. Also, many animals (and humans!) have good commensal bacteria which live on and inside us doing no harm. A broad spectrum antibiotic will target the good bacteria more than a narrow spectrum one, which is undesirable. 

Culture appropriately 

You may already be familiar with the term ‘culture and sensitivity.’ During this process, a bacterial sample (usually via swab) is sent to a lab for further analysis. Any bacteria present is cultured, grown and identified and then tested against a range of common antibiotics. The final report will state which antibiotics are effective or resistance against the bacteria which is present. Culture and sensitivity swabbing is highly recommended. And in an ideal world, this would always be conducted first before prescribing any antimicrobials.

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Tailor your practice policy 

The ‘Protect-Me’ scheme provides free access from Veterinary professionals to a fantastic practice poster which can be filled out and regularly updated by the Veterinary team. The poster highlights what first-line approach and which antimicrobial is recommended for a range of conditions. Excitingly, a ‘Protect-Me’ poster specifically for rabbits is now available!

Monitor 

Monitoring the response of any treatment course is recommended.

Educate others 

As a first opinion Vet, as well as caring and treating patients on a daily basis, a huge part of my role involves Client education and working together as a trio (the Vet, the Owner and the patient!). It is essential to educate and discuss with pet Owners why antimicrobials should only be used when necessary and that inappropriate overuse of antibiotics can ultimately be harmful.

Antibiotic resistance and stewardship

Antibiotic resistance is a growing issue as resistant bacteria is continuously emerging worldwide. Take MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) for example; this is a harmful bacteria because it is now resistant to many types of antibiotics. Therefore, MRSA infection can be serious because it is harder to treat than other bacterial infections.

Minimising antibiotic resistance is not only essential for patients who are receiving treatment, but it is equally important for future generations. This is why antimicrobial stewardship is of great importance to safeguard all animal, human and environmental health. Antimicrobial stewardship involves taking actions to preserve the effectiveness and availability of antibiotics through responsible decision-making.

Conclusion

To summarise, the Vet ‘Protect-Me’ scheme has been a major factor driving increased awareness about the importance of the responsible use of antimicrobials in practice. It is vital that this movement and awareness continues to grow in strength in order to protect the future health of both animals and humans.

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