A superbug is a strain of bacteria that has become immune to antibiotic drugs.
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is the ability of a microbe to resist the effects of medication previously used to treat them. The term includes the more specific "antibiotic resistance", which applies only to bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics. Resistant microbes are more difficult to treat, requiring alternative medications or higher doses, both of which may be more expensive or more toxic. Microbes resistant to multiple antimicrobials are called multidrug resistant (MDR); or sometimes superbugs.
Resistance arises through one of three mechanisms: natural resistance in certain types of bacteria, genetic mutation, or by one species acquiring resistance from another. All classes of microbes can develop resistance: fungi develop antifungal resistance, viruses develop antiviral resistance, protozoa develop antiprotozoal resistance, and bacteria develop antibiotic resistance. Resistance can appear spontaneously because of random mutations; or more commonly following gradual buildup over time.
Preventive measures include only using antibiotics when needed, thereby stopping misuse of antibiotics or antimicrobials. Narrow-spectrum antibiotics are preferred over broad-spectrum antibiotics when possible, as effectively and accurately targeting specific organisms is less likely to cause resistance. 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 and hygiene, including handwashing and disinfecting between patients, and should encourage the same of the patient, visitors, and family members.
Rising drug resistance is caused mainly by use of antimicrobials in humans and other animals, and spread of resistant strains between the two. 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.
Antimicrobial resistance is on the rise. Estimates are that 700,000 to several million deaths result per year. 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 as a result. There are 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.