Health Care

The Problem with Antimicrobial Resistance

A Pharmacist Speaks to a Patient About Medication

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Drug resistance is spreading globally, making common infections increasingly difficult — and sometimes impossible — to treat.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) happens when bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites change over time and no longer respond to certain medicines designed to eliminate them. Antimicrobials refer to everything from antibiotics and antivirals to antifungals and antiparasitics.

The Antimicrobial Resistance Crisis

Each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 2.8 million infections develop in the United States that are met with drug resistance, leading to the deaths of more than 35,000 people. Worldwide, a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) found that, by 2050, up to 10 million people could die each year due to antimicrobial resistance — and global gross domestic product (GDP) could drop by $3.4 trillion by 2030.

In fact, because of its potential to affect people at any stage of life and its ability to harm animal and plant health, food security and economic development, AMR is considered one of the world’s most urgent public health problems.

Causes of Antimicrobial Resistance

Antimicrobials have made a major contribution to human health: Many diseases that used to kill people, like pneumonia and tuberculosis, can now be treated effectively. The problem develops when antimicrobials are misused or overused and become resistant to common germs, leading to germs not only surviving but multiplying and spreading.

Plus, germs that develop resistance to antimicrobials can share their resistance mechanisms with other germs, creating even further issues.

Antimicrobial resistance is on the rise — driven by a combination of misuse and overuse, as well as environmental factors like extreme weather patterns and a warming planet. Also, because of advances in how we do business and travel globally, drug resistance can move easily across borders and spread in places like hospitals and farms.

Implications of Antimicrobial Resistance

When antibiotics and other antimicrobials lose their effectiveness, it causes a host of problems, including:

  • Greater risk associated with certain medical procedures like joint replacements, organ transplants and treatments for chronic conditions like diabetes and cancer
  • Higher health care costs due to longer hospital stays and the need for more intensive care
  • Rising costs of medicines as a result of medications like antibiotics no longer working as intended

Strategies Against Antimicrobial Resistance

As dangerous germs grow more resilient and threaten to reverse the progress made by lifesaving drugs like penicillin, more research is needed. Not only do drug manufacturers need to develop new antimicrobial medicines, but more programs and legislation are necessary to find lasting solutions.

Thankfully, because it’s been identified as a global health threat, public health organizations around the world are uniting to fight it. Each year in November, for instance, World Antimicrobial Awareness Week promotes education and encourages best practices among the general public, health workers and policymakers to slow the development and spread of drug resistance.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also launched a priority pathogens list in 2017 to review antimicrobials in development.

One way the United States is taking action is by investing heavily in research that could expand the supply of effective antimicrobial treatments. Investigators with the National Institutes of Health’s Intramural Research Program (IRP), for example, are studying germs’ resistance mechanisms, developing ways to track the spread of infections and creating new treatments for drug-resistant infections like tuberculosis.

So, what part do you play in the battle against antimicrobial resistance? You can help prevent drug resistance simply by washing your hands often and keeping your vaccinations current, lowering the risk of infection. You can also cut down on pollution, which the UNEP report found to be one of the main ways to reduce the threat across the globe.

In addition, you can talk to your doctor about whether you need an antibiotic to treat your infection and only use antibiotics when prescribed by your provider.

Your Whole Health Matters

Our primary care providers at AdventHealth can help answer your answers about drug resistance and support all your health needs — from prevention and treatment to chronic condition management.

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