Gaps in best practice worm control advice provision identified in newly published study

A new study led by PARAGONE coordinator, Jacqui Matthews of Moredun Research Institute (Edinburgh), has shown that when UK livestock farmers procure anthelmintics, there are some important gaps in advice provision relating to reducing the spread of drug resistance.

Driving Sheep

Driving Sheep

Helminths are important, common parasites of livestock worldwide. All grazing livestock are at risk of helminth infection from pasture. These worms have been controlled for many years by the regular use of broad spectrum anthelmintics; however, drug resistance is now a major issue, especially in worms of small ruminants. Resistance is a major threat to global food security as new anthelmintic products do not appear to be coming to market in the short to medium term.Because of the increasing prevalence of drug resistant parasites, more sustainable approaches to worm control need to be deployed on farms to protect anthelmintic efficacy. These approaches are termed ‘best practice’. They include the appropriate application of drugs and the use of evidence-based protocols involving diagnostics, to inform the need to treat, alongside management practices designed to break the transmission cycle of the worms. Until now, there was no published information on how farmer/prescriber interactions at the point of anthelmintic purchase shape the application of best practice worm control principles on-farm.

To find out about how the experiences of UK farmers relate to anthelmintic purchasing and provision of best practice advice at the point-of-sale, Matthews’ group undertook a large online survey. This survey explored farmer experiences in purchasing anthelmintics from the three UK animal medicines’ prescribers (veterinarians, Suitably Qualified Persons [SQPs] and veterinary pharmacists) and investigated farmer attitudes to anthelmintic use and drug resistance in worms.

When grouped according to the route through which they purchased anthelmintics, farmers who bought in face-to-face interactions were significantly more likely to state that they valued their prescriber’s knowledge of parasites/anthelmintics than those farmers that purchased anthelmintics via the telephone or internet. Farmers that purchased online were significantly less likely to consider prescriber advice.

Trichostrongyles

Trichostrongyles

The study also examined how frequently different livestock farmers carried out testing for infection and resistance to dewormers. Generally, sheep farmers undertook worm egg count testing more than cattle farmer respondents, but relatively few farmers stated they ever conducted drug sensitivity testing, with the majority of cattle farmers never having tested efficacy. This was despite a high level of concern for resistance stated by all types of farmers.

The results from suggest that UK farmers that bought anthelmintics from veterinarians were more likely to be exposed to diagnostic-led worm control advice, as currently recommended in the industry guidelines. Gaps in advice provision, particularly in relation to efficacy testing, were identified in all farmer groups and these need to be addressed in training courses for all types of prescribers.

A workshop was recently held at the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, the UK government agency responsible for approval and regulation of animal medicines, in which the results of this survey were shared and discussed with major stakeholders in the ruminant livestock industry, with the aim of setting out a plan to improve worm control advice provision at the point of sale.

The results have just been published in the July 2018 issue of Preventive Veterinary Medicine (Easton S, Pinchbeck GL, Bartley DJ, Hodgkinson JE, Matthews JB. 2018. A survey of experiences of UK cattle and sheep farmers with anthelmintic prescribers; are best practice principles being deployed at farm level? Prev. Vet. Med. 155: 27-37).