Lilian Shepard
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The Dangers of Antimicrobial Resistance

— Lilian Shepard

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the greatest threats to human health worldwide. In 2019, AMR was associated with nearly 5 million deaths globally, and by 2050, as many as 10 million could die from AMR annually. Infections once easily treatable by antibiotics are becoming life-threatening. Researchers now predict that in 50 years, almost all the antibiotics we have today will be completely ineffective.

In 1928 Scottish physician and microbiologist Alexander Fleming discovered what’s widely considered to be the first antibiotic, penicillin, sparking the “golden age” of antibiotics. Antibiotics and other revolutionary medical advancements are credited with extending the average human lifespan by 23 years and providing effective treatment for otherwise deadly bacterial infections. However, the improper use of antibiotics in recent years has promoted antibiotic resistance, resulting in fewer methods to treat harmful infections. AMR occurs when microbes evolve and gain mechanisms that shield them from the effects of antibiotics. When continually exposed to antibiotics, bacteria that have randomly mutated to become resistant are favored by natural selection and survive over antibiotic-susceptible bacteria. This process, while natural, can be amplified by antibiotic overuse. Using antibiotics only when needed can reduce the chances of significant increases in AMR.

Some microbes can become resistant to multiple antibiotics. These are called multidrug-resistant (MDR) microbes and can be referred to as superbugs. Superbugs are extremely dangerous, and patients infected with an MDR infection are often left with few, even no treatment options. These MDR infections are becoming increasingly prevalent and are responsible for a major percentage of deaths associated with AMR and its complications. One of these superbugs is Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, otherwise known as MRSA, a problematic strain of bacteria resistant to all beta-lactams (the most widely-used class of antibiotics).


Overall, addressing the impacts of AMR is not an easy task, as cooperation is required from many stakeholders. Governments, healthcare professionals, researchers, and pharmaceutical companies must introduce legislation regulating the use of antibiotics, practice antibiotic stewardship, and develop new antibiotics to combat this pressing issue.


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