Rapid diagnostic tests are no panacea for tackling antimicrobial resistance

5 November 2020

Innogen members Ann Bruce and Katie Adam have co-authored a paper as part of the Diagnostic Innovation and Livestock (DIAL) project team, in collaboration with the University of Exeter and Bristol Veterinary School. This new publication explores the potential role of rapid or point-of-care diagnostic tests for farm animals in supporting decisions about antimicrobial use in livestock.

Growing concerns over antimicrobial resistance have sparked efforts to reduce the use of antimicrobials in livestock without compromising animal health and welfare. Large reductions in antibiotic use have already been obtained over the last few years, however, continuing reductions will benefit from new approaches.  Many policy documents, such as the 2016 Review on Antimicrobial Resistance (the O’Neill review) have emphasised the central role that rapid diagnostics could play in speeding up treatment decisions and guiding a more targeted use of antimicrobials.  

The study authors interviewed 30 veterinarians working with dairy, pig and poultry farms in England, Wales, and Scotland, to understand current diagnostic practices and gather their thoughts on the use of these tests.

Identifying a clear target for new veterinary tests is a major challenge for diagnostic developers, and we believe that this paper provides a valuable insight into practising veterinarians’ views about rapid diagnostic tests,” says Katie Adam, Postdoctoral Research Fellow on the DIAL project.

Most of the respondents agreed that while rapid diagnostics can confirm the presence of disease, they cannot detect complex disease interactions that often take place and that require veterinary expertise to diagnose. Furthermore, the interpretation of the test results by non-clinicians could further complicate the veterinarian's legal responsibility and authority for diagnosis and animal treatment.

The study identifies a certain ambivalence on the part of many farm animal veterinarians regarding rapid and point-of-care diagnostic tests as a means of achieving more sustainable and responsible antimicrobial use.

There are lots of innovative ideas for rapid diagnostics being developed, but the technology itself is not the whole solution. A clearer value chain that fits into animal health systems is required. ”, says Ann Bruce, Innogen member and Senior Lecturer, Science Technology and Innovation Studies, The University of Edinburgh.