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Antibiotic means a substance produced by living microbes that kills or inhibits the growth of other microbes (in the present context, this also includes compounds that are partly or fully synthetically produced). Antibiotics have been used since the 1930s to treat infectious diseases in humans and animals. Antibiotics and antimicrobials are often used as synonyms. In the broad sense of the word antimicrobials also cover antifungal, antiparasitic and antiviral preparations, but only agents with antibacterial effects (antibiotics) are discussed here.

Modes of action of antibiotics

Some antibiotics kill the target bacteria, while some only inhibit their growth. In the latter case in particular, the bacteria are ultimately killed by the body’s own defence mechanisms. Antibiotics may, among other things, affect bacterial cell wall structures, protein synthesis or nucleic acid metabolism. Antibiotics have action spectra of varied width. Some are effective against many bacterial species (broad-spectrum antibiotics) while others have effect only against certain species (narrow-spectrum antibiotics).

Antibiotic resistance

The natural resistance of bacteria is a characteristic typical of a certain bacterial genus or species. Acquired resistance refers to a phenomenon whereby strains originally susceptible to a specific antibiotic substance become resistant to it, due to, for example, a genetic mutation. There are various kinds of resistance mechanisms. Bacteria may produce enzymes that break down antibiotics, or the antibiotic’s binding site or site of action in the bacterial cell may change. Some bacteria are capable of hindering the entrance of an antibiotic through their cell wall or effectively pumping it out of the bacterial cell. Certain resistance mechanisms are based on alternative metabolic pathways. Multiresistant bacteria exhibit simultaneous resistance to several antibiotic groups.Over the past few years, the prevalence of antibiotic resistant bacteria has rapidly increased and resistance mechanisms have become more varied. Increasing antibiotic resistance also increases human and animal morbidity and mortality and heath care costs, which is why antibiotic resistance has become one of the most severe threats to human and veterinary medicine.

FINRES-Vet resistance monitoring programme

In Finland, a programme for monitoring antibiotic resistance, FINRES-Vet, has been underway since 2002. The programme monitors the antibiotic susceptibility of zoonotic bacteria (pathogenic bacteria that can spread between animals and humans), animal pathogens and indicator bacteria.In addition to the resistance situation, the programme also monitors the use of feed additives and the consumption of veterinary antibiotics. In addition to Finnish Food Authority, the Finnish Medicines Agency Fimea and the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Helsinki are also involved in the implementation of the FINRES-Vet programme. From 2012 onwards, resistance data from pet animals have been gathered in the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. Resistance monitoring in EU countries is based on the EU legislation (up to year 2020, Decision 2013/652/EU, and from 2021, Decision (EU) 2020/1729), which specifies the bacterial and animal species and food stuffs to be included. FINRES-Vet program is carried out based on the EU legislation as well as national decisions.