Antimicrobials are medicines that kill or slow the growth of germs (bacteria, virus, fungus) that cause diseases. Antibiotics are the most commonly prescribed antimicrobial.
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs when some of the germs (bacteria, virus, or fungus) that cause infections resist the effects of the medicines used to treat them. This may lead to ‘treatment failure’, or the inability to treat the cause of the infection.
The types of microorganisms that can develop resistance to antimicrobials include:
- bacteria – develop resistance to antibiotics
- viruses – develop resistance to antiviral medicines
- fungi – develop resistance to antifungal medicines.
AMR refers to the broader term antimicrobial resistance. This term includes all microorganisms that develop resistance to antimicrobial medicines. This website focuses on responding to the threat of antibiotic resistance. This is the area of greatest concern in the world today.
Why are antibiotics important?
Antibiotics are antimicrobial medicines. They work by killing bacteria, slowing their growth or stopping them from causing infection. Antibiotics help the body’s natural immune system fight bacterial infections.
Since the 1940s, antibiotics have saved millions of lives. They also improve the safety of many lifesaving medical procedures like:
- organ transplantations
- caesarean sections
What is antibiotic resistance?
Antibiotic resistance can occur naturally in bacteria. It gets worse when people take antibiotics. The bacteria change, become resistant to antibiotics used to treat the infections and still multiply instead of dying.
Many people believe that they can become resistant to antibiotics but this is not true. It is the bacteria – not people or animals – that become resistant to antibiotics.
These resistant bacteria can spread and may infect people or animals. They are harder to treat than non-resistant bacteria.
AMR is on the rise because we’re relying on antibiotics to treat common infections in both humans and animals.
Some bacteria are now so resistant that there are no antibiotics doctors can use to treat the infections they cause. There are very few new antibiotics available to replace them. Put simply, the more antibiotics we use, the faster and more serious resistance develops in bacteria.
We can’t just rely on new antibiotics to fight resistant infections. We need to reduce the risk of bacteria developing resistance by:
- only using antibiotics when they are most needed
- preventing infection in the first place.
What are superbugs?
The term ‘superbugs’ describes specific bacteria that are resistant to a number of different types of antibiotics. Superbugs are also called:
- multi-resistant organisms (MROs)
- multi-drug resistant organisms (MDRs).