What causes AMR?

Antibiotic resistance develops naturally in bacteria. However, our actions can increase resistance developing and spreading. This can happen:

  • when human and animal health professionals over prescribe antibiotics
  • when people don’t take antibiotics as directed
  • due to poor hygiene and a lack of infection prevention and control e.g. not washing hands properly
  • due to people travelling around the world, spreading resistant bacteria.

AMR happens naturally

While antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a natural process in bacteria, antibiotic use makes it worse. Bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics when they:

  • turn on certain internal resistance processes
  • change to protect themselves from an antibiotic
  • receive resistant genes from other bacteria.

AMR increases when we use antibiotics

The main cause of antibiotic resistance is antibiotic use. When we use antibiotics, some bacteria die but resistant bacteria can survive and even multiply. The overuse of antibiotics makes resistant bacteria more common. 

The more we use antibiotics, the more chances bacteria have to become resistant to them. This means that antibiotics won’t work when we need them in the future. If we decrease antibiotic use, the antibiotics may again become effective at killing bacteria.

Antibiotics don’t work against all infections

Antibiotics only work against infections caused by bacteria. Antibiotics do not work against viruses that cause colds or the flu.

Poor hygiene and infection prevention and control

Poor hygiene and poor infection prevention and control can:

  • provide more opportunity for resistant bacteria and other germs to spread
  • make more people sick and increase the need for antibiotics.

Hand hygiene is the most important way of preventing the spread of infections including antibiotic resistant infections.

People travelling

Antibiotic resistance is more common in some countries, and different countries can have different types of resistant bacteria. Travellers can become sick by:

  • eating contaminated food
  • drinking contaminated water
  • touching contaminated surfaces
  • contact with animals
  • receiving medical treatment overseas.

They can then bring these resistant bacteria back to Australia.

Related links

Last updated: 
31 October 2017