Global Health Threat: Antimicrobial Resistance
What is antimicrobial resistance?
Antimicrobial resistance occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites change and no longer respond to medicines they responded to in the past - this renders the antimicrobial medicines ineffective. This increases the difficulties in treating an illness, causing the disease to spread easily and have negative, and sometimes lethal, effects on people.
How do bacteria become resistant?
How antibiotic-resistant bacteria arise (ducu59us, Shutterstock).
Bacteria develop resistance mechanisms with the help of their DNA. Often, we find resistant genes in some of the bacteria’s plasmids, making other bacteria resistant when they share their DNA. They can also become resistant with the help of mutations in their genetic material, meaning that if we were to treat a bacterial illness with an antibiotic, only those who have the mutation making them resistant would multiply, thus increasing the number of resistant bacteria.
Different defence mechanisms found in resistant bacteria
Restrict access of the antibiotic: The bacteria change or limit the number of entryways.
Get rid of the antibiotic: They use pumps in their cells to get rid of antibiotics that try to enter.
Change or destroy the antibiotic: The resistant bacteria change or destroy antibiotics with enzymes that break down the drug.
Bypass the effects of the antibiotic: They develop new processes that avoid using the antibiotic’s target.
Change the targets for the antibiotic: They change the antibiotic’s target, so it can no longer fit and get rid of the bacteria.
Why is antimicrobial resistance a global health threat?
The spread of resistant pathogens that have acquired new resistance mechanisms continue to threaten health professionals’ ability to treat recurrent infections. The spread of these pathogens causes the infections to be untreatable with existing antimicrobial medicines.
Antibiotics are becoming less and less effective, increasing the demand for new medicines to treat carbapenem-resistant gram-negative bacterial infections. This is due to the manner in which many people incorrectly use antibiotics: overusing them when it is not necessary, or not following instructions from physicians and stopping before the prescribed date. If people do not change the way they use antibiotics, the newly developed ones will have the same fate - they will eventually become ineffective in treating illnesses.
Importance of taking antibiotics responsibly
It is important not to overuse antibiotics, as taking them at inappropriate times promote antibiotic resistance. According to the CDC, from one-third to one-half of antibiotic use is unnecessary or at the wrong time.
It is important to know that antibiotics will only treat bacterial infections, meaning sore throats, colds, flu, bronchitis, the majority of coughs, and many others do not need to be treated with antibiotics. In fact, it won’t treat the infection or keep others from getting sick, won’t help the patient feel better and can actually worsen the symptoms due to side effects. It can also attack the good bacteria in the body.
Failure to take antibiotics as prescribed can result in the need to continue the treatment at a later time and could possibly promote the spread of antimicrobial resistance among toxic bacteria. While it is tempting to stop taking medication when recovery seems swift, it is crucial to follow the treatment plan to prevent further complications.
Without scientific advancements to help prevent drug-resistant infections and the provision of new quality-assured antimicrobial medication, more and more people will die or have their treatments fail. Surgeries will become riskier, and simple medical procedures can become dangerous. It is essential that we do our part as a population to help prevent this global health crisis.
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World Health Organization. (2020, October 13). Antimicrobial resistance. Retrieved
November 21, 2020, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/antimicrobia
Cover Photo is courtesy of Pixabay.
Article Author: Celine Guirguis
Article Editors: Olivia Ye, Victoria Huang