What is antimicrobial resistance?
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs when microorganisms are able to survive exposure to antimicrobial medicines such as antibiotics that would normally kill them or stop their growth. This results in the drugs no longer working to treat infections. Of particular concern are microorganisms which become resistant to most antimicrobials - they are known as superbugs. Infections which were once easily treatable can become fatal.
AMR is accelerated by the inappropriate use of antimicrobial medicines, incorrect prescribing and poor infection control practices. Limitations in the ability to diagnose the cause of infection mean that broad-spectrum antimicrobials sometimes have to be used, rather than specifically targeting the infection-causing micro-organism. This accelerates the spread of AMR. The use of antibiotics in agriculture also encourages the development of AMR, if humans consume agricultural products contaminated with resistant micro-organisms, or if AMR is transferred from animal pathogens to human pathogens. Currently, few new antimicrobials are being developed to replace antimicrobials that become ineffective as AMR develops.
Failing to tackle AMR will result in at least 10 million extra deaths a year globally by 2050 – more than the number of people who currently die from cancer, according to a 2014 UK government review commissioned by the Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies and written by leading economist Jim O’Neill. Urgent action is needed if infectious disease is to be treatable into the future.
To address the urgent global problem of AMR, a multidisciplinary 'one health' approach is needed which spans people, animals, agriculture and the wider environment. The UK government's five-year strategy sets out actions to slow the development and spread of antimicrobial resistance. In addition, a cross-funding Council initiative funds research into tackling AMR. Imperial College London is working in collaboration with partners to make groundbreaking steps towards addressing AMR.
For further information about the global problem of AMR, you may find the following of interest
- Review on Antimicrobial Resistance: Tackling drug-resistant infections globally 2014- UK government review
- WHO report: Antimicrobial resistance - global report on surveillance 2014
- NIHR Themed Call: Preventing the development and spread of antimicrobial resistance
- Report from the Chief Medical Officer on Infections and the rise of antimicrobial resistance
- UK government resources on AMR