About Antimicrobial Resistance
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) happens when microorganisms (e.g. bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites) evolve to become resistant to previously effective medications (i.e. antimicrobials). It is considered one of the greatest threats to global health and economy.
Antibiotics are medications used for treating bacterial infection. When antibiotics wipe out disease-causing bacteria in our body, normal bacteria are also killed, thereby increasing the opportunity for resistant bacteria to grow and multiply. These resistant bacteria are sometimes referred to as ‘superbugs’. Some superbugs are capable of resisting more than one antibiotic and such infections are difficult to treat. Although there may be alternative antibiotics available, they may be less effective or cause more side effects. Moreover, the development of new medicines is too far behind to keep pace with AMR evolution. If the problem of AMR does not improve, there would be fewer effective treatment options.
To combat the issue, actions taken by the healthcare sector alone are not enough and concerted efforts from the general public are crucial.
Related Questions and Answers
- What are antimicrobial agents and antibiotics?
There are many types of microorganism, such as bacteria, virus, fungi and parasites.
Antimicrobial agents, including antibiotics, are drugs that can kill or suppress disease-causing microorganisms.
Antibiotics are drugs for treating bacterial infections, either by killing the bacteria or stopping them from growing. There are different types of antibiotics for treating different bacterial infections.
Antibiotics are not effective in curing viral infections such as common cold and influenza (flu)
and cannot make recovery faster.
- What are antimicrobial resistance bacteria?
‘Antimicrobial resistance’ occurs when microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites change in ways that render the medications used to cure the infections they cause ineffective.
‘Antibiotic resistance’ happens when bacteria evolve to become resistant to previously effective antibiotics. These resistant bacteria are sometimes referred to as 'superbugs'.
When the bacteria become resistant to most commonly used antibiotics, they are referred to as ‘multi-drug resistant organisms’ (or MDROs). When the medicines become ineffective and infections persist in the body, the risk of spread to others will also increase.
- What causes antimicrobial resistance?
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs naturally over time through genetic changes and can affect humans and animals. It develops when microorganisms adapt and grow in the presence of antimicrobials (including properly used antimicrobials). However, AMR is accelerated by misuse and overuse of antimicrobials (examples include misuse of antibiotics for treatment of viral infections such as common cold and influenza, and improper use of antimicrobial on food animals). Among all antimicrobials, resistance to antibiotics for treatment of bacterial infection is the most serious problem. Resistant bacteria are often acquired through ingestion or contact from colonised or infected animals, food or humans, or their contaminated environment. AMR has no respect for borders and direction and can be transmitted in a bi-directional manner from animals to humans and vice versa.
- What are the consequences of AMR?
If the problem of AMR does not improve, existing antimicrobials would become ineffective and infections could not be cured, resulting in prolonged illness and increased risk of death. Without effective antimicrobials for prevention and treatment of infections, medical procedures such as organ transplantation, chemotherapy for cancer, diabetes management and major surgeries become more risky in particular for patients who are frail. Infections caused by resistant bacteria can spread among people as well as animals, and impose huge threats to global health and economy. According to the World Health Organization
, if no action is taken, AMR could cause up to ten million deaths in the world annually by 2050 (in contrast with at least 700,000 per year currently) and could force up to 24 million people into extreme poverty by 2030.
- What is the impact of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on AMR?
As COVID-19 is caused by virus but not bacteria, antibiotics should not be used to prevent or treat the disease, unless there is secondary bacterial infection. Misuse of antibiotics during COVID-19 pandemic could lead to accelerated emergence and spread of AMR that could potentially lead to another public health emergency.