Inside Dental Assisting
May/Jun 2011
Volume 7, Issue 3

Antimicrobial Resistance on the Rise

Treatment options decrease as medicines become ineffective.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is the resistance of bacteria, viruses, and certain parasites to conventional treatments (antibiotics, antivirals, and antimalarials) to which they were formerly sensitive. AMR is primarily the result of the inappropriate dispensing and irrational use of these medicines, causing them to become ineffective.1 As stated by the World Health Organization (WHO), AMR threatens to return the world to the pre-antibiotic era, as more diseases become uncontrollable.1

AMR-related healthcare concerns include:1

  • prolonged illness and greater risk of death from infections that fail to respond to conventional treatment.
  • the danger that infectious diseases are becoming essentially untreatable.
  • the re-emergence of formerly controlled diseases.
  • increased spread of disease as patients remain infectious for a longer period.
  • greater healthcare expense because of longer illnesses and the need for more advanced medicines.

Societal Forces

According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases,2 certain societal pressures are accelerating the increase of antimicrobial resistance:

1. Improper Use: Patients with viral or undiagnosed infections are demanding antibiotics inappropriately from healthcare workers because of the placebo effect.

2. Inadequate Diagnostics: Healthcare providers sometimes prescribe a broad-spectrum or "just in case" antimicrobial when a complete or timely diagnosis is unavailable.

3. Hospital Use: Heavy use of antimicrobials for critically ill patients in close contact helps to spread antimicrobial-resistant germs.

4. Agricultural Use: Adding antibiotics routinely to agricultural feed promotes drug resistance (although more research is needed on whether this creates a health problem in humans).

Prevention—One Dose at a Time

Healthcare consumers can play an active role in slowing the emergence of AMR by paying attention to the whys and hows of their medications:3

  • Question healthcare providers about the necessity of a prescribed antibiotic.
  • Employ non-medicinal methods to relieve the symptoms of minor illness.
  • Do not take an antibiotic for viral infections (cold or flu).
  • Do not save leftover antibiotic for the
    next illness.
  • Take prescribed antibiotics precisely as directed (do not skip doses or cease taking medication before the course of treatment ends).
  • Do not take an antibiotic prescribed for someone else (inappropriate treatment may allow bacteria to multiply).

Although proper hand hygiene and surface cleaning are essential to preventing the spread of infection, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that there is a lack of evidence supporting the use of consumer products containing antibacterial chemicals. More studies examining resistance issues related to these products are necessary; however, a link between bacterial resistance and antibacterial chemicals used in personal products has been demonstrated in a controlled environment.3


1. Combat antimicrobial resistance. World Health Organization website. Available at:www.who.int/world-health-day/2011/WHD201_FS_EN.pdf. Accessed April 30, 2011.

2. Antimicrobial (drug) resistance causes. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases website. Available at: www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/antimicrobialResistance/Understanding/Pages/causes.aspx. Accessed May 3, 2011.

3. Antibiotic resistance questions & answers. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: www.cdc.gov/getsmart/antibiotic-use/anitbiotic-resistance-faqs.html. Accessed May 3, 2011.

4. Antimicrobial (drug) resistance quick facts. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases website. Available at: www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/antimicrobialResistance/Understanding/Pages/quickFacts.aspx. Accessed May 5, 2011.

5. About antimicrobial resistance: a brief overview. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/about.htmlcdc.gov/drugresistance/about.html. Accessed May 6, 2011.

Further information can be found at the CDC website:

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