Antimicrobial resistance (AMR), or drug resistance, develops when microbes, including bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses, no longer respond to a drug that previously treated them effectively.
Resistant microbes are more difficult to treat, requiring alternative medications or higher doses of antimicrobials. These approaches may be more expensive, more toxic or both.
Microbes resistant to multiple antimicrobials are called multidrug resistant (MDR). Those considered extensively drug resistant (XDR) or totally drug-resistant (TDR) are sometimes called “superbugs”.
Dangers of Antimicrobial Resistance
AMR is an increasingly serious threat to global public health that requires action across all government sectors and society.
It can lead to the following issues:
- AMR can make some infections being harder to control and staying longer inside the body.
- It could lead to longer hospital stays, increasing the economic and social costs of infection.
- AMR leads to a higher risk of disease spreading and a greater chance of fatality due to infection.
- A significant concern is that AMR could lead to a post-antibiotic era in which antibiotics would no longer work.
- Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) threatens the effective prevention and treatment of an ever-increasing range of infections caused by bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi.
- Without effective antibiotics, the success of major surgery and cancer chemotherapy would be compromised.
- The cost of health care for patients with resistant infections is higher than care for patients with non-resistant infections due to longer duration of illness, additional tests and use of more expensive drugs.
Common Activities That Can Cause Antimicrobial Resistance
Microbes, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites, are living organisms that evolve over time. As soon as scientists introduce a new antimicrobial drug, there is a good chance that it will become ineffective at some point in time.
This is due primarily to changes occurring within the microbes.
These changes can come about because of the following reasons:
- Gene transfer: Microbes can pick up genes from other microbes. Genes conferring drug resistance can easily transfer between microbes.
- Phenotypic change: Microbes can change some of their characteristics to become resistant to common antimicrobial agents.
- Over-prescription of antibiotics.
- Patients not finishing the entire antibiotic course.
- Overuse of antibiotics in livestock and fish farming.
- Poor infection control in health care settings.
- Poor hygiene and sanitation.
- Absence of new antibiotics being discovered.
Complications That Can Result From Antimicrobial Resistance
Antimicrobial resistance can cause:
- The development of more serious infections.
- Longer recovery times.
- Increased medical expenses.
- The use of more-expensive drugs or riskier procedures.
- Possible death.
Anyone with a drug-resistant infection should seek a doctor’s help. It may be possible to use a different drug, a higher dose, a longer period of treatment, multiple drugs in combination, or different non-drug treatments to cure the infection.
How You Can Prevent Antimicrobial Drug Resistance
Preventing microbes from developing resistance to drugs has become as important as treating the illnesses that they cause. The main reason for the increase in AMR appears to be the frequent and improper use of antimicrobial drugs.
Steps that people can take to help lower the risk of AMR include the following:
- Only use antimicrobial drugs when a doctor prescribes them.
- Always complete the full prescribed course, even if the symptoms have subsided. If not, the drug may only kill off the most vulnerable microbes, leaving others to survive and develop resistance.
- Never share antimicrobials with others or using leftover drugs from previous prescriptions. These medications may not be suitable for different forms of infection.
- Do not pressurize doctors into prescribing antimicrobials when they are not necessary.
- Follow good hygiene practices to prevent the spread of microbes, including washing hands thoroughly and ensuring that food preparation areas are clean.
- Get recommended vaccinations, as this will reduce the risk of needing to take medication.