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Toolbox  –  Prevent infection

Food animals

Infections in animals impact food production and drive antibiotic use. The main diseases treated with antibiotics are common endemic infections such as mastitis, pneumonia and diarrhoea. These diseases also cause decreased productivity. To have basic routines for prevention and control of infectious diseases at farms is crucial both to lower antibiotic use and the risk of spreading antibiotic resistance.

To prevent disease and improve the health status of animals lay the groundwork for being able to reduce antibiotic use without losing productivity.

Measures for infection prevention can be broadly categorized into three main themes:

1) Animal husbandry 2) Biosecurity 3) Vaccinations

In one study of pig farms, improving health status among animals via biosecurity measures decreased the total antibiotic use by 52% from birth to slaughter without reducing productivity.

1) Good animal husbandry

Good animal husbandry and welfare practices will increase the animals’ ability to withstand disease. Poor husbandry practices lead to increased stress and diseases among the animals and thus affect productivity negatively. Areas to consider for improving the health status of the animals are:

  • Nutritional needs (amount of feed, nutrient content, hygienic quality)
  • Providing clean drinking water
  • Providing clean, comfortable and safe housing for the animals
  • Temperature, lighting and ventilation for good air quality
  • Adequate space per animal
  • Manure management
  • Possibility to quarantine sick animals (when appropriate)
  • Observing and reducing stress behaviors
  • Regular veterinary advice about disease management, treatments etc
  • Improving internal and external biosecurity (see more below)


Short movie from FAO on how farmers in Kenya are working to prevent infections and limit Antibiotic resistance

Disease prevention in aquaculture – the Norwegian example

Norway is one of the world’s main salmon producers, with an annual production of Atlantic salmon of 1.3 million tons. It is also one of the countries with the lowest use of antibiotics in the aquaculture sector. Thus, large scale production of salmon is possible without regular use of antibiotics. Norway has managed to dramatically decrease the use of antibiotics, which peaked in 1989-90. At the same time the aquaculture production has increased more than tenfold. How? The most important factors have been:

  • Development of new vaccines and vaccination strategies
  • Sanitary measures to prevent horizontal disease transmission (between sites and between salmon year classes)
  • Strong legislative measures and consensus between governmental authorities and the industry to focus on disease control

2) Biosecurity

Introduction and continuous improvement of biosecurity measures is essential for a health-oriented farming system.

What is biosecurity?

Biosecurity measures aim to prevent introduction or spread of disease at farms. External biosecurity refers to management steps taken to prevent the introduction of infectious agents into an animal herd or flock. It usually involves testing incoming animals, and some sort of quarantine or isolation for newly purchased or returning animals. The focus of internal biosecurity is to diminish the spread of an infectious agent within a herd.

Components of biosecurity include:

  • Ensuring good hygiene practices (e.g. hand washing, implementation of cleaning and disinfection routines)
  • Isolation of new animals or sick animals to reduce the spread of infectious agents to the herd or flock
  • Cleaning of materials entering the farm/premises to remove visible dirt
  • Disinfection of materials after cleaning to inactivate any pathogens
  • Practicing rodent control
  • Use of all-in, all-out concept with cleaning and disinfection between batches of animals

Relationship between biosecurity status, production parameters, herd characteristics and antimicrobial usage in pig production in four EU countries.

Description: Study that correlated biosecurity status with antimicrobial usage and production parameters such as weight gain and mortality. Biosecurity scores were calculated with the Biocheck.UGent tool.

Place: Belgium, France, Germany and Sweden.

Setting: Pig farms, farrow to finish.

Finding: Higher biosecurity scores correlated with improved productivity and health, such as higher daily weight gain and lower incidence of antibiotic treatment.

3) Vaccines

Vaccination is an efficient measure to prevent specific diseases, including bacterial infections. Both antibacterial and antiviral vaccination can reduce the need for antibiotics. Vaccinations make the animals healthier and thereby prevent unnecessary use of antibiotics.

Autogenous vaccination reduces antimicrobial usage and mortality

Description: A large pig breeding herd suffered from recurring outbreaks of a severe skin infection (exudative epidermitis). Sows were in a four-week batch production system. Pigs were weaned and moved to a nursery unit at an age of three weeks. At ten weeks, pigs were sold to fattening farms. Clinical signs of infection were seen one week after weaning and peaked at the third week. Almost 30% of pigs had signs of infection, leading to increased mortality and lower sales prices. Treatment with antibiotics and topical disinfectant had little effect.

Place: Pig farm, Belgium.

Setting: Commercial 1000-sow herd.

Intervention: Bacteria (mainly Staphylococcus hyicus) were identified as probable cause of infection, and were used to create a vaccine at Biovac Santé Animale in France. Antibiotic prophylaxis was stopped and parts of the parent herd was vaccinated, others serving as control.

Finding: Antibiotic use to treat the disease decreased from a total of 89 grams in non-vaccinated groups to 40 grams in the vaccinated groups. Total mortality decreased from 7% to 4%. Vaccination had an impact, but was not sufficient alone to eradicate the disease. Authors suggest further improvement of the vaccine and improvement in other husbandry practices.

Looking for more information?

Getting started and Interventions provide information and tools to facilitate work on infection prevention in the animal sector.

RATIONAL USE – Food animals focuses on how to use antibiotics appropriately and how to reduce unnecessary routine use.

UNDERSTAND gives background information about antibiotic resistance development and spread, and why it is important to take action.

Selected Resources

Resource Description
Prudent and efficient use of antimicrobials in pigs and poultry Manual to help farmers and animal health workers to use antibiotics prudently and prevent infections. Gives an overview of measures that can be taken and practical recommendations on how to improve the use of antibiotics and animal productivity. Also available in Russian.
Animal nutrition strategies and options to reduce the use of antimicrobials in animal production This paper by FAO provides guidance for animal nutrition strategies that can contribute to a healthy gastrointestinal tract and reduce the risk of diseases. The final aim is to prevent or minimize the need for antibiotics in dairy and meat production.
Information on aquatic and terrestrial animal diseases Information portal from WOAH with resources and information on more than 100 diseases affecting animals. Diseases are listed in alphabetical order and for the type of animal.
Antibiotic Use in Food Animals Poses Risk to Public Health Article. Information page from PEW discussing current evidence on antibiotic use in food animals and the impact on human health, with links to further scientific evidence.
Use of Vaccines in Finfish Aquaculture Fact sheet with basic information about vaccines, with a specific focus on finfish aquaculture (IFAS Extension, University of Florida, 2014).