What is Antimicrobial resistance?

Learn how deadly superbugs are born

What is antimicrobial resistance (AMR)?

Antimicrobial resistance occurs when microbes (germs such as bacteria) evolve and adapt to become resistant to the antimicrobials (including medicines such as antibiotics and antifungals) that are meant to kill them.

These drug-resistant germs, or ‘superbugs’, can cause life-threatening infections and diseases that can’t be treated with current medicines. Without effective treatment, these infections can persist in the body and resistant bacteria can spread to other people, other animals and through our environment.

The success of modern health procedures, like routine surgeries, rely on antimicrobials like antibiotics to treat and prevent infections. As we lose effective treatments due to rising rates of AMR, these procedures carry an increased risk of untreatable infections, complications and death.

Common illnesses or injuries such as diabetes or cuts also become harder to manage.

How does antimicrobial resistance happen?

First, it is helpful to understand that people do not develop resistance to antimicrobials like antibiotics. Bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics, viruses develop resistance to antivirals and fungi develop resistance to antifungal medicines.

Since antibiotics became more widely available in the 1940s, they have successfully treated a wide range of infections and saved millions of lives.

Unfortunately, when disease-causing bacteria are consistently exposed to antimicrobials like antibiotics, they can develop a tolerance to them. Over time, this resistance builds until the antibiotics no longer work to kill the bacteria and cure the infection.

While natural resistance to antibiotics exists, it is limited; the overuse and misuse of some antibiotics has accelerated this resistance.

This is why we should take antibiotics only when necessary and why OUTBREAK will be instrumental in informing the use of new and existing antibiotics – to slow the rise of antimicrobial resistance.

AMR statistics

  • We use antibiotics too often; estimates suggest as much as 30% of all the antibiotics taken by humans are not needed [1]
  • Australia uses more antibiotics than most European countries[2]
  • Australian hospitals spend more than $11 million a year treating infections from two major drug-resistant infections, CRE and MRSA (golden staph)[3]
  • Almost all antibiotics used today were developed over over 30 years ago and only a handful of new classes of antibiotic have been approved in the last two decades [4]
  • Already, there are at least 700,000 deaths per year globally from antibiotic-resistant infections[5]

What’s the difference between antibiotic resistance and antimicrobial resistance?

These terms are often used interchangeably to simplify the message. However, antimicrobial resistance refers to the resistance of more than just antibiotics and includes antivirals and antifungals. Antibiotic resistance refers to the resistance of just antibiotics.

Here’s what you can do today to help slow the rise of AMR

All of us can support the fight against drug-resistant supergerms simply by following these important tips:

  • Only take antibiotics when prescribed by a doctor.
  • Ask your doctor if there are alternatives to taking antibiotics.
  • Do not pressure your doctor to give you antibiotics.
  • Do not take antibiotics to treat viruses like a cold, flu, bronchitis, chickenpox, cold sores and hepatitis. (Antibiotics are useless against viruses.)
  • Always take the full course of antibiotics; if you stop midway the bacteria can develop drug-resistance and reinfect you.
  • Do not share antibiotics.
  • Do not give your pet antibiotics unless prescribed by a vet.

You can help prevent drug-resistant germs from spreading by:

  • washing your hands
  • washing fruit and vegetables
  • sneezing into a tissue or your elbow
  • staying home from school or work if you are unwell
  • keeping vaccinations up to date for you, your family and your pets.
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