Over the past century, antibiotics have become a core component of treating infections and diseases, but can you imagine a world where antibiotics don’t work anymore? Unfortunately, that is the direction we are headed.
Infection-causing bacteria are becoming more and more resistant to antibiotic treatment, a phenomenon referred to as antimicrobial resistance (AMR). This shocking trend has become exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as hospital admissions increased and 80 percent of patients hospitalized with COVID received antibiotics.
What is causing AMR? How has the pandemic impacted the situation? And what can be done about it? Learn more below.
Causes of AMR
In essence, antimicrobial resistance is caused by the overuse of antibiotics. Antibiotics are often prescribed freely without clear diagnoses to determine the precise form of antibiotic that should be used. This has led to the emergence of “superbugs,” i.e., bacteria with such high resistance that there are no antibiotics that can treat them.
AMR is no casual concern—it has become a serious problem threatening global health and safety. In 2019, about 1.27 million people died as a direct result of drug-resistant infections, and 4.95 million people died from illnesses in which drug-resistant infections played a part.
The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on AMR
While awareness of antimicrobial resistance is increasing in the medical field, the COVID-19 pandemic stunted any progress being made. From 2019 to 2020, hospitalization-related infections grew by 15 percent. Further, 80 percent of those hospitalized due to COVID received antibiotics for treatment. With such high rates of infection and prescribed antibiotics, AMR escalated significantly.
While the COVID-19 pandemic is now relatively under control, the impact of COVID on AMR is still in force, and things may worsen again when a new catastrophic event happens.
What Can Be Done about AMR
There are three critical steps needed to address antimicrobial resistance:
The first is antibiotic stewardship. While stewardship in hospitals has been instituted in recent years, it has not been as widespread and effective as hoped, especially during the pandemic. Scientific support for more effective diagnostic tools that target the high rates of false negative results from current lab test technology is urgently needed. This will give physicians better and more effective information to treat patients and prevent sepsis and other serious complications that are now evident.
Antibiotic stewardship in community medical practice is spotty at best. Physicians must be mindful in diagnosing infections and prescribing antibiotics to avoid any overuse of antibiotics. However, they need the same help as hospital physicians in order to more effectively determine when and which antibiotic should be used. Current diagnostic tools are often ineffective in that regard, especially for treating chronic infections which affect many millions of Americans.
The second step is to utilize novel diagnostic tools and precise infectious disease diagnostics so we can more accurately identify the bacterial species and guide antimicrobial treatment decisions. Biotia is actively leveraging diagnostic technology to achieve these purposes.
The third step is to support and invest in the research and development of antibiotic drugs. The US government currently has a national action plan in place with goals for slowing the emergence of resistant bacteria and increasing efforts for research and development. In addition, the CDC is leading the Antimicrobial Resistance Solutions Initiative to support state and local health departments in combating this issue.
“While efforts are being made, the progress is slow, and we need to urgently speed up the actions and support from the government,” says Barry T. Zeman, MPH, FACHE, former hospital CEO and Advisor at Biotia, who worked with a national study group in analyzing and developing a program for healthcare institutions to reduce hospital-acquired infections and antibiotic-resistance.
AMR is a serious problem in our world today, and if not addressed, the repercussions are frightening. Physicians and patients alike can do their part to build awareness, improve stewardship, and support R&D and governmental efforts to reduce AMR.
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