Health · Human Biology · Intermediate

What is antimicrobial resistance?

antibiotics

Image credit

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.

figure 1
Figure 1. bacteria become resistant to antibiotics when one bacterium undergoes a mutation that codes for resistance.

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.

MRSA
Figure 2. microscopit image of MRSA bacteria.

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.

3 thoughts on “What is antimicrobial resistance?

  1. Is medicine advancing quickly enough to be able to solve this problem or is it completely down to us to stop this from happening? Also, have we ever seen this happen before? I’m interested to know if we have seen resilience to any other types of drugs and how we solved the problem, if we did. Cool post!

    Like

    1. Hi Grace!

      We have not found a new class of antibiotics since 1987, which was obviously quite a while ago! The lack of new drugs, combined with the issues outlined in this post, are the reasons why bacteria are becoming more and more resistant. Discovering new antibiotics is time-consuming and costly, but will help to put the brake on antibiotic resistance.

      However, it is only a matter of time before bacteria become resistant to new antibiotics as well. Bacteria are living microorganisms, and evolve to evade and counteract the effects of antibiotics, which is why they can become resistant. So, while scientists are partly responsible for discovering new antibiotics to try and hinder resistance until we find even more new antibiotics, we are all responsible for doing our part. Overusing antibiotics is a global problem on an individual scale, so we must spread the word about what we can do to stop misuse. Please use this link for further information about finding new antibiotics:
      https://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/03/14/first-new-antibiotic-in-30-years-discovered-in-major-breakthroug/

      To my knowledge, we have never seen this before. If we think about how long humans have been on the planet for, antibiotics have only been used for a miniscule amount of time; before antibiotics, people would die from bacterial/fungal/parasitic infections, and there was nothing for these microorganisms to become resistant to. This is actually pretty scary; we have not been using antibiotics for that long and it already evident that we cannot sustain modern medicine with these drugs. We also see resistance in fungi:
      http://www.organiclifestylemagazine.com/fungal-infections-becoming-resistant-evolving-like-antibiotic-resistant-bacteria
      and parasites:
      http://www.msf.org/en/article/malaria-how-does-parasite-develop-resistance-drugs

      In essence, scientists need to discover a more refined way in targeting micoorganisms after they develop resistance, rather than just using stronger antibiotics. The problem is that the cell structure of microorganisms such as bacteria are very similar to our own cells, so it is difficult to create treatment that targets just bacterial cells and not our own cells.

      I hope this helps!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s