What is antimicrobial or antibiotics resistance? How big of a threat is it to human health? And, how can everyone play their part in combatting or reducing antibiotic resistance?
It is well known how clever some bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites are when it comes to adapting to their environment any obstacles they may encounter. Although tiny, microbes are mighty when it comes to finding new ways to survive.
Although scientists marvel at the adaptability, it isn’t always good news for us humans particularly when it comes to medicine and health.
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is the name given to the process by which bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites change and stop responding to drugs. Basically, they resist our attempts to kill or control them.
Although this is an impressive feat when microbes that are harmful to human health no longer respond to medicine it makes it exceedingly difficult to treat infections leaving people at risk of disease, severe illness, and even death.
Also known as drug resistance, AMR means antibiotics, once a highly successful method for treating illness, and other antimicrobial medicines become much less effective or don’t work at all.
This is most seen with antibiotics, and it is now well documented around the world in healthcare settings how these medicines are becoming much less effective at treating illness.
Although Antimicrobial resistance is a naturally occurring phenomenon, it is thought that the misuse of medicines has accelerated the process.
Most of the general population are probably quite unaware of the problem antimicrobial resistance presents, although they may be familiar with snippets of information regarding the misuse of antibiotics – many GP surgeries have displayed public information posters about antibiotic misuse for several years now.
Health professionals, scientists, and the UK government have all warned for years of a looming crisis, and the dangers we face.
The World Health Organization (WHO) call antibiotic resistance “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today”, and report that numerous infections including pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhoea, and salmonellosis are getting more difficult to treat as antibiotics become less effective.
Infections that resist treatment will in turn lead to hospitalisation, longer hospital stays, increased pressure on healthcare staff, and increased mortality.
As antibiotics play a large role in post-surgery care, even the most routine of surgeries, such as hip replacements, could become much more dangerous without antibiotics. Recipients of transplanted organs would also be at risk of organ failure without antibiotics used as part of their care.
In addition to adding pressure to health services and potentially affecting other patients, outside of healthcare settings, AMR could potentially lead to economic issues as a result of people being too ill to work, or leaving employment altogether.
Antimicrobial resistance is a complex issue that must be approached by scientists and researchers from a variety of sectors, including human health, the environment, and agriculture.
At the very top of the list of needs is more investment in the development of new antibiotics and other antimicrobial medicines, further development and promotion of antimicrobial-resistant diagnostic tools, and new vaccines.
In healthcare settings, WHO are also encouraging professionals to reconsider antibiotic use and help promote hygiene measures to patients to decrease the risk of people becoming sick in the first place.
As individuals, we can all play a part in the fight against antibiotic resistance by trying to stay as safe and healthy as possible. This includes simple measures such as increased hand washing, avoiding people who are ill, practising safer sex, and ensuring food is well cooked. People are also encouraged to only take antiviral medicines that have been prescribed to them personally, by a doctor.
WHO is leading a global action plan to tackle AMR and launched World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (WAAW) in 2015 to increase awareness and encourage best practices. As of 2021 WAAW will run between the 18th and 24th of November each year.