Antibiotic resistance is the ability of bacteria and other microorganisms to resist the effects of an antibiotic to which they were once sensitive.
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is the ability of a microbe to resist the effects of medication previously used to treat them. This broader term also covers antibiotic resistance, which applies to bacteria and antibiotics. Resistance arises through one of three ways: natural resistance in certain types of bacteria; genetic mutation; or by one species acquiring resistance from another. Resistance can appear spontaneously because of random mutations; or more commonly following gradual buildup over time, and because of misuse of antibiotics or antimicrobials. Resistant microbes are increasingly difficult to treat, requiring alternative medications or higher doses—which may be more costly or more toxic. Microbes resistant to multiple antimicrobials are called multidrug resistant (MDR); or sometimes superbugs. Antimicrobial resistance is on the rise with millions of deaths every year. A few infections are now completely untreatable because of resistance. All classes of microbes develop resistance (fungi, antifungal resistance; viruses, antiviral resistance; protozoa, antiprotozoal resistance; bacteria, antibiotic resistance).
Antibiotics should only be used when needed as prescribed by health professionals. The prescriber should closely adhere to the five rights of drug administration: the right patient, the right drug, the right dose, the right route, and the right time. Narrow-spectrum antibiotics are preferred over broad-spectrum antibiotics when possible, as effectively and accurately targeting specific organisms is less likely to cause resistance. Cultures should be taken before treatment when indicated and treatment potentially changed based on the susceptibility report. For people who take these medications at home, education about proper use is essential. Health care providers can minimize spread of resistant infections by use of proper sanitation: including handwashing and disinfecting between patients; and should encourage the same of the patient, visitors, and family members.
Rising drug resistance can be attributed to three causes use of antibiotics: in the human population; in the animal population; and spread of resistant strains between human or non-human sources. Antibiotics increase selective pressure in bacterial populations, causing vulnerable bacteria to die—this increases the percentage of resistant bacteria which continue growing. With resistance to antibiotics becoming more common there is greater need for alternative treatments. Calls for new antibiotic therapies have been issued, but new drug-development is becoming rarer. There are multiple national and international monitoring programs for drug-resistant threats. Examples of drug-resistant bacteria included in this program are: methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), vancomycin-resistant S. aureus (VRSA), extended spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL), vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE), multidrug-resistant A. baumannii (MRAB).
A World Health Organization (WHO) report released April 2014 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—when bacteria change so antibiotics no longer work in people who need them to treat infections—is now a major threat to public health." Increasing public calls for global collective action to address the threat include proposals for international treaties on antimicrobial resistance. Worldwide antibiotic resistance is not fully mapped, but poorer countries with weak healthcare systems are more affected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections."