Antimicrobials – Handle with care.
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) ranks among the top 10 global public health threats, according to the World Health Organization.
At least 700,000 deaths worldwide already result from drug-resistant infections each year. By 2050, if we continue using antibiotics as we are now, approximately 10 million people worldwide will die from resistant infections each year—more than the number of deaths caused by cancer (O’Neill 2016).
Antimicrobial resistance is also on the rise in Canada (CARSS Updated 2020). Based on 2018 data, Canadian experts estimate that 26% of infections—about 1 in 4—are resistant to the drugs generally used to treat them, and predict 40% resistance by 2050. Over this period, health and societal costs of AMR will total to 396,000 lives lost, $120 billion in added hospital expenses, and a $388 billion decline in GDP (CCA 2019).
What are antimicrobials and antimicrobial resistance?
Antimicrobials are medications designed to kill or stop the growth of microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites that cause infections. They are used to prevent and treat disease, not only in humans, but also in animals and plants.
Antimicrobial resistance occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites adapt and develop characteristics that allow them to fend off or disable antimicrobials. This happens naturally, but greater exposure to antimicrobials accelerates these changes. Microbes that develop resistance are not killed and multiply. The result is infections that are harder to treat, causing more severe illness, longer hospital stays, and more often death.
This whiteboard video explains antimicrobial resistance and what it means to be a ‘steward’ of antibiotics.
Where do we see the effects of AMR?
It is difficult to imagine the scale of AMR impacts and how they will change the lives of Canadians. For front-line healthcare providers, the effects of AMR are already seen in a growing number of infections that do not respond to antibiotics. Bacterial pneumonia, gonorrhea and urinary tract infections are becoming harder, and sometimes impossible, to treat. Without effective antibiotics, other treatments will also become risky. Patients requiring surgery, dialysis and chemotherapy will be poorly protected from the risks of life-threatening infections.
What can you do? Handle antimicrobials with care!
Proper use and prescription of antimicrobials helps slow the rise and spread of drug-resistant organisms. Canadian prescribers, patients, and the public can all learn more about when antimicrobials are necessary and when they are not.
One important example is—antibiotics do not work against common cold and flu viruses, and are often unnecessary for some bacterial infections. Despite these facts, inappropriate antibiotic prescription remains common in Canada–estimated at over 30% of all prescriptions, and 50% of prescriptions for respiratory infections.
There are many influences on antimicrobial overuse, including the expectations that providers, patients and caregivers have that a prescription signals good care. To slow the global antimicrobial crisis we must take a more balanced view of antimicrobials, considering both their benefits and harms. One of the best ways to combat antimicrobial resistance is to start conversations between prescribers and patients—Is an antibiotic necessary? When is the best care: no antibiotics?
Slowing the emergence and spread of resistant organisms also calls for improved infection prevention, because fewer infections in our hospitals, long-term care homes and communities means less antimicrobial use, and less selective pressure for microbes to develop resistance. Apply these proven practices: keep vaccinations up-to-date, make good hand and food hygiene habits regular, and limit close contact with others when you are ill.
Learn more from the resources and tools below.