In 2013, more than 2 million people encountered illnesses due to resistant bacteria, of which there were 23,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the past five years, this problem has worsened.
As a mom, I can’t help but take notice of numbers like these.
I can speak from experience that it’s a gut-wrenching feeling when your child doesn’t respond to antibiotics and their condition worsens. And I have felt the same way when it happened to our livestock.
Because of this, I was looking forward to learning more during my visit to Worthington, Minn., last week for an exclusive, behind-the-scenes tour of Newport Laboratories, a Boehringer Ingelheim Company. I spent the day with my colleague John Maday of Bovine Veterinarian learning about the process of diagnostic testing and custom or autogenous vaccine production.
In addition to listening to animal health industry leaders share about these processes, we also discussed antibiotic resistance, African swine fever and PCV3. We toured their state-of-the-art lab and John and I even prepped samples for the MALDI-TOF machine. If you aren’t familiar with this amazing piece of equipment, don’t worry, you’re not alone. I learned that the MALDI-TOF machine is part of the diagnostic lab and helps technicians drastically cut the time needed to identify specific isolates involved in a disease outbreak. If warranted, the information obtained from this diagnostic tool leads to the development of an autogenous vaccine that targets that exact viral or bacterial strain.
Start with Good Samples
During my first two months on the job, a repeated comment has emerged from all of my travels – good diagnostic testing requires good samples.
In the short term, diagnostic testing provides a scientific basis for treatments and management decisions to address livestock diseases. In the long term, it identifies the pathogens involved and helps veterinarians and producers design more effective vaccine protocols and other preventive strategies.
“Diagnostics show us what’s really going on – instead of just shooting from the hip clinically,” says Randy Shirbroun, DVM, and ruminant business unit director at Newport Laboratories.
With the technology that surrounds us today, we don’t need to guess what’s going on in our herds. Viruses and bacteria continually evolve, and the prevalence of some strains can increase while others decline. With continuous testing, isolation and analysis, a custom-vaccine manufacturer can respond quickly with products that reflect the strains currently circulating in livestock herds.
Identify Evolving Problems
Mark Wagner, DVM, of Fairmont Veterinary Clinic in Fairmont, Minn., shared his perspective from having “boots on the ground” as a swine veterinary practitioner.
“I continue to see evolution of viruses and bacteria,” Wagner says. “On the pig side, I’ve learned that doing diligence on your diagnostics is important, knowing what you have and understanding it. We’ve made great advancements in diagnostics and will continue to do so, especially with more deep sequencing technology.”
Diagnostic testing helps our industry become more proactive, rather than reactive. Unfortunately, Shirbroun says we may have overused or misused antibiotics in some situations in the past, but now we are being constrained in how those products can be used due to regulatory pressure.
He believes vaccines are more efficient, economical and effective in the long run. But just like anything, it comes down to balance.
“There is always a balance when treating a group of animals – vaccines are warranted in some cases and antibiotics in others. The key is that you can’t swing the pendulum too strong to one end or the other,” Wagner says.
Undoubtedly, custom vaccines can help us fill in gaps and play an important role in finding solutions to emerging diseases by reducing the time from sampling and isolation to field application. We need this capability to address “orphan” diseases, which cause economic losses in some herds, but are not sufficiently common to support investment in developing commercial vaccines.
For the most part, if they can grow it, they can make a vaccine. Custom vaccines can help us move the needle forward in our attempt to help our animals live higher quality lives.