Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is the all-encompassing term used to describe the ability of a microorganism such as fungi, bacteria, or a virus to become resistant to antibiotics. This is important because at current rates in which microbes are becoming resistant to antibiotics, we are at a huge risk of modern medicine going back to stone-age medicine in the not too distant future.
Why does this matter? Well, AMR is something that will affect all of us if we don’t put our foot on the brakes. This is happening across the globe, and therefore requires a global effort to be tackled – and that begins with you. As individuals, we need to make more of an effort to slow AMR to save ourselves in the future.
Antibiotics are drugs that inhibits growth or destroys microorganisms. They are used to treat bacterial infections and are widely and frequently prescribed. These drugs are often overused in the farming industry for preventative measures, and some countries do not regulate and control their use. Misuse of antibiotics has led to bacteria evolving and developing defence and evasion mechanisms that prevent antibiotics from working; the bacteria have become resistant to the antibiotic. These bacteria (or other microorganisms) are known as superbugs. The more antibiotics are used, the more likely bacteria are to become resistant to the antibiotic. All that’s needed is one bacterium to undergo a genetic mutation that confers resistance. Once this happens, it can divide, creating a strain of superbugs that can transfer their resistant genes to other bacteria, even of different species. See figure 1 for a diagram of how resistance happens.
Antimicrobial resistance is happening now. Current research is showing that antibiotics “may be lost” through overuse, and this will have devastating consequences on healthcare. Small cuts could become lethal, pre-term babies and caesareans would be at huge risk of serious infection, and common surgeries such as hip replacements and tumour removals would be a thing of the past. Emerging data suggests that there are now more deaths from fungal infections than malaria worldwide due to fungi becoming resistant to fungicides – that’s right, it’s not just bacteria that become resistant to antibiotics, but fungi can become resistant too, hence the umbrella term antimicrobial resistant. Terrifying, right? Not only that, but antibiotic-resistant gonorrhoea is now expected to spread worldwide, which will not only cause pain, discomfort and potentially embarrassment, but can also lead to infertility.
Superbugs can become resistant to more than one antibiotic, making them difficult to treat and control. MRSA is a superbug commonly found in hospitals. It is often found on the skin, but when it gets inside the body there may be a problem. If MRSA infects the bloodstream it can infect joints, heart valves, bones and the lungs, which can cause severe pain and can be fatal.
So, what can you do to help?
- Remember that antibiotics do not cure everything; these drugs do not cure viruses.
- So don’t go to the doctors asking for antibiotics! Your doctor knows best.
- Always complete the full course of antibiotics and do not stock pile.
- Only take antibiotics when prescribed by a doctor.
- Never share antibiotics or use leftover prescriptions.
- Practice good hygiene, especially when visiting hospitals.
- Start a conversation! Talk to your friends, family members, colleagues, whoever about antibiotics and help advise them on how to respectfully use antibiotics.
AMR is threatening the modern medical world and action needs to be taken to stop this. While governments across the globe need to make more effort to tackle this problem, you can also help to stop AMR. The future depends on us to make a difference now.