AMR is a threat to not only humans but also animals, plants, and the environment. Can you tell us more about what exactly AMR is?
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is regarded as one of the predominant and most salient public health issues of the 21st century, as it threatens the effective treatment and prevention of an ever-growing range of infections caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. In other words, these groups of microorganisms are no longer susceptible to the common medical agents used to treat them, and the issue is particularly serious and urgent in bacteria. This is an evolving issue that took place over several decades, resulting in frequent pathogenic bacteria harboring some type of resistance to each new antibiotic coming to the market. This means there is an urgent call for action to avoid a global crisis in health care when we can lose the ability to perform surgeries and other types of quotidian medical procedures.
In an attempt to define AMR, we can say that this is a natural phenomenon arising when microorganisms are exposed to antimicrobials or antibiotics. Under such selective pressure, susceptible bacteria are inhibited or killed, whereas those that are naturally (or intrinsically) resistant or those with antibiotic-resistant traits have a much greater chance of surviving and multiplying. The issue arises not only as a result of the overuse of antimicrobial agents but also when they are used inappropriately (such as inadequate drug choices, faulty dosing regimens, and/or low compliance with relevant treatment guidelines). All of this can have a compounding effect and contribute to the rise of antibiotic resistance.
During the last few years, the importance of animal reservoirs and the environment in spreading AMR has been widely recognized. In the past several decades, we have witnessed an increased awareness of the potential problems that resistance among food-producing animals could have on human health. In addition, the soil is regarded as a reservoir of AMR genes since most antibiotics are derived from soil microorganisms that are intrinsically resistant to the antibiotics produced. Finally, water potentially contaminated with organic fertilizers and fecal microorganisms may disseminate resistant bacteria in the soil and is considered a principal way of bacterial propagation between various environmental compartments.
Given the dangers of AMR and the slogan of World Antimicrobial Awareness Week - ‘Antimicrobials: Handle with Care,’ why is it crucial to handle antimicrobials with care?
Judicious and careful use of antimicrobial agents is one of the pillars of successfully diminishing the threat of AMR. In the clinical milieu, there is an important concept of antimicrobial stewardship that refers to a set of coordinated strategies for improving patient care and outcomes by instituting optimal therapy, minimizing collateral damage by reducing antimicrobial usage (which translates to lower resistance rates), and lowering the price of antimicrobials. This concept is also amenable to global implementation to help control AMR by increasing awareness of the public and educating healthcare professionals on the prudent use of antimicrobials.
In the hospital setting, antimicrobial stewardship programs and infection control measures are of utmost importance to prevent the emergence and transmission of antibiotic-resistance microorganisms and preserve the effectiveness of currently available antimicrobial drugs. Hence, multidisciplinary teams of experts (such as infectious disease specialists, medical microbiologists, and clinical pharmacists) participate in such endeavors. Moreover, as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic can lead to the increased indiscriminate usage of antimicrobials (which was particularly the case in the early days of SARS-CoV-2 spread), handling antibiotics with care can result in lower bacterial resistance and, subsequently, a lower death toll.
Nevertheless, the antimicrobial stewardship concept has to be extended to family doctors in the community, where there is often a very high consumption of antibiotics. Relevant public health actions that are needed to reduce inappropriate antimicrobial prescriptions and antibiotic misuse should consider adequate information campaigns for the consumers, training of healthcare professionals, enhanced diagnostics to improve treatment decisions, the development of treatment guidelines, as well as regular prescription audits. In a nutshell, different healthcare organizations should strive to make coordinated efforts to institute new policies and put more emphasis on antimicrobial stewardship in professional curricula.