Everything you need to know about antibiotics

What is antimicrobial resistance

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued a stark warning that the world is running out of antibiotics.

It said that "antimicrobial resistance is a global health emergency".

But what is antimicrobial resistance (AMR)? Here are some questions answered about the subject.

:: What are antimicrobial drugs?

These are the drugs which destroy harmful microbes. Antibiotics are the best known of these drugs, but there are others, such as antivirals, antimalarial drugs and antifungals.

:: What is antimicrobial resistance?

AMR occurs when microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites evolve to resist the drugs that combat the infections that they cause. As a result, standard treatments become ineffective, infections persist and may spread.

:: How does this happen?

The WHO states that antimicrobial resistance occurs naturally over time, usually through genetic changes. But other factors have helped to accelerate the process such as the "misuse and overuse" of antimicrobial drugs. Other factors include poor infection control, inadequate sanitary conditions and inappropriate food-handling encourage the spread of antimicrobial resistance.

:: Why is it a problem?

AMR is threatening the ability to treat common infectious diseases, resulting in prolonged illness, disability, and death. Around 700,000 people around the world die annually due to drug-resistant infections including drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB), HIV and malaria.

:: What happens if nothing is done?

Experts have estimated that by 2050, 10 million lives could be lost every year as a result of drug-resistant infections. If antibiotics lose their effectiveness then key medical procedures - including gut surgery, caesarean sections, joint replacements, and chemotherapy - could become too dangerous to perform.

:: What infections should not be treated with antibiotics?

Viral infections should not be treated with antibiotics. Common infections caused by viruses include: colds, flu, some sore throats, most coughs and bronchitis, many sinus infections and many ear infections.

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