Antibiotic residues: another neglected potential health hazard in Iraqi-Kurdistan

By Rawaz Sulaiman:Food health

Previously, on KT, I talked about the overusing of antibiotics in our region and their negative impacts of public health. Here, I’d also like to shed some light on the usage of antibiotics in veterinary practice; more precisely, their negative effects on human health through animal products and the current role of vet practice in this.

Broadly speaking, in veterinary practice, antibiotics are used to treat certain diseases, or as a prophylactic measure in the form of feed additives, which is a part of improving animal products, including meat, eggs and dairy products. On one side, these provide certain advantages: they suppress the emergence of certain diseases, enhance appetite and enable animals to eat more, ultimately resulting in growth improvement.

The other side is more concerned with their adverse residual effects, in particular, if they are not used with caution. The term antibiotic residue can be simply explained as the presence of small elements of antibiotics in animal products. This can create potential health risks. Above all, it can cause direct toxicity in humans through consumption of animal products. In addition, it may lead to the emergence of some resistant bacteria that are hard to treat by the application of routine antibiotics in case of clinical conditions. It is worth pointing out that the emergence of resistant microbes in animals could also infect and leave human untreatable, making their prevention and control even harder.

One of the main causes of this phenomenon in our region is the misapplication of antibiotics because of mistakes in identifying the sources of diseases due, presumably, to a lack of proper diagnostic tools which encourages veterinarians to make antibiotics their first and best choice when treating diseases. A further cause is paying less attention to the time required for the toxic residues of antibiotics to reach a safe level or to get eliminated by the animal’s body. This process is coined in two terms – withholding and withdrawing periods.

Although both terms are used interchangeably, they are quite distinctive. The former can be explained as the period when treated animals’ products are not allowed for human consumption; it starts from the time when a last dose of medication was given. The latter, however, can be described as the time an animal is removed from medication until the permitted time of slaughter. In this regard, usually a full set of instructions are provided by pharmaceutical manufacturing companies for vets. This method is used as a safeguard to prevent human exposure.

In our region, this approach is somehow applied in poultry industries, by keeping a contemporaneous recording of given medications and vaccine dates.With farm animals, however, there is not a strict or regulatory strategy to take control of the use of medications. Animal owners can get whatever antibiotics they want, especially from private clinics. Although instructions are given by vets, this is not sufficient to ensure a good clinical practice. What is more, animal owners are less aware of the antibiotic hazards and have insufficient knowledge of their potentially adverse on humans.

Thus very urgent actions are required to overcome these risks to animal and human health. Identifying the major causes and sources should be the top priority. As different countries follow different regulatory and prevention programs, a scientific and appropriate regulatory strategy should be adopted to enable screening and to control this risk in our region.

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Rawaz Sulaiman has MSc. in Biomedical sciences from Sheffield Hallam University, UK.


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