Health Lifestyle Science & Technology

The rise of antimicrobial resistance

From the time Alexander Fleming discovered the Penicillium mould which produced penicillin to kill bacteria in 1928, many more antibiotics have been commercially produced to fight off many bacterial infections. However, many of the microorganisms are now antimicrobial resistant (AMR).

WHO defined AMR as “the microorganism’s resistance to an antimicrobial drug that was once able to treat an infection by that microorganism.”

Ever since the worldwide availability of antibiotics from the 1950s, the effectiveness of such medicines have decreased. For decades it has been known that microbes in general, go through evolution. Mircoorganisms are invisible to the naked eye and aren’t complex organisms which makes them to evolve faster than any other organism in the world.

Due to the high rate of misuse of antibiotics, bacteria develop different mechanisms to counteract the effects, thus making them useless which can end up killing the patient.

In April 2014, the WHO released a report which stated “this serious threat is no longer a prediction for the future, it is happening right now in every region of the world and has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country. Antibiotic resistance is now a major threat to public health.”

Ways in which AMR occurs can be due to uncontrolled sale in many low or middle income countries, antibiotic use in livestock, antibiotics in soaps and other products and volume of prescribed antibiotics as well as missed doses.

Recently, researchers have shown that AMR is rapidly increasing in animals that are eaten in low and middle income countries. It was found in the research that farmers use antibiotics not only for treating infections but are also used for gaining weight, thus making the animals more profitable.

The research team, led by Thomas Van Boeckel, SNF Assistant Professor of Health Geography and Policy at ETH Zurich, compiled a geographical database of resistance for common foodborne bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter and Staphylococcus.

They discovered the regions with highest rates of AMR in animals are northeast China, northeast India, southern Brazil, Iran and Turkey while there is a lower rate of AMR found in Africa except in Nigeria and the surroundings of Johannesburg.

This information led to the team developing an open-access website resistancebank.org in which data can be uploaded and shared for further study. Van Boeckel hopes that other researchers will find this method useful so that other ways can be used to help reduce the rate of AMR.

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