An article in the recent Equus magazine entitled “The Deworming Revolution: A Change in Tactics” fascinated me as much for its implications to the horse world as for its similarity to the the challenge we face with the overuse of antibiotics in human medicine (for an intro to the MRSA dilemma see my post “Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em“).
The author, Christine Barakat, notes:
For the last three decades, controlling internal parasites in horses has been a fairly simple proposition: administer a dewormer every eight weeks or so, alternating among products of different chemical classes at each treatment interval…And our horses are healthier than ever. In fact, reports of parasite-related problems have all but disappeared.
But amid these signs of apparent success, trouble is brewing. Research has shown that indiscriminate overuse of anthelmintic drugs has allowed some parasites to develop resistance to certain chemicals, rendering some agents ineffective against specific species of worms. More worrisomely, scientists warn that all agents now in use could eventually lose their effectiveness if current deworming practices continue.
Veterinarians and researchers are working to create a new solution, one that transcends the limitations of the current one-size-fits-all, treat whether it’s needed or not approach. It’s not the first time we’ve seen this problem in animal husbandry. In the 1970s, lambs in New Zealand received a similar treatment up until the point that none of the anthelmintics worked. A dangerous and costly situation.
We need new protocols for dealing with parasites in horses and parasites and other bacterial infections in humans.
One emerging alternative, which continues to use the current medications on a different basis, advocates a more flexible, customized approach that takes into account fecal egg counts, the efficacy of the drug to be used and the climate (which has a bearing on the life cycle of the parasites). In other words, treat according to the actual needs of the horse and the climate.
While this new protocol requires more thought on the part of the veterinarian and caregivers as well as greater trust in a more targeted and typically less frequent intervention, it appears to be working.
Another step we could take to protect our horses now as well as the generations of horses to come is to strengthen the host. A stronger host is more resistant to infection. Louis Pasteur himself is reported to have said on his deathbed: “Bernard avait raison. Le germe n’est rien, c’est le terrain qui est tout!” (Bernard was right. The germ is nothing, the terrain is everything!)
In this case, fortifying the digestive system with probiotics appears to help reduce the incidence and severity of parasitic infections. The same appears to be true in humans. There is a growing body of evidence showing that a large percentage of disease starts in the gut. Resolve, or better yet, prevent gut issues and you are likely to greatly reduce the need for drug interventions later in the process.
Just because we’ve done something in a certain way for years doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be open to new and better approaches, especially when the familiar approach is no longer working. A valuable lesson in any department of life!