- What is antimicrobial resistance (AMR)?
- Why is AMR important?
- What is One Health?
- What should we do about AMR?
- How is the threat of AMR being addressed in Australia and globally?
- Information for veterinarians
- Resources and presentations
What is antimicrobial resistance (AMR)?
Antimicrobials are substances that kill or stop the growth of microorganisms without harming the host animal. Antimicrobials are used to treat or prevent the onset of infections in humans and animals. Antibiotics are a type of antimicrobial and are only effective against bacterial infection.
AMR occurs when particular microorganisms develop the ability to stop certain antimicrobials from working on them. The use, misuse and overuse of antimicrobials in both human and veterinary medicine and animal production sectors are regarded as the major contributing factors for AMR.
Why is AMR important?
People and animals could die because of AMR.
When a type of bacteria develops AMR against a particular antibiotic, an infection by those bacteria can no longer be treated with that antibiotic. If there is no other effective antibiotic, then the infection will persist, and in the worst case scenario, could kill the afflicted person or animal.
The pool of effective antibiotics becomes smaller with AMR because very few new antibiotic classes are being developed. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928 and there have been more than 100 compounds been found since then. However, scientists have only found and developed a single new antibiotic class between 1985 and 2015.
A review on antimicrobial resistance, chaired by Jim O'Neill, estimates that by 2050, 10 million deaths every year could be attributed to AMR, more than currently caused by cancer and diabetes. AMR is estimated to be responsible for the deaths of 700,000 people annually now. The following diagram shows AMR to cause more deaths than cancer by 2050 if things continue as they are.
From Review on antimicrobial resistance (2016) Jim O'Neill
We need to work together using a One Health approach to fight antimicrobial resistance and ensure we have effective antimicrobials to use in both human and veterinary medicine in the future.
What is One Health?
'One Health' is the concept that the health of people, animals and the environment are closely linked, so that an issue such as AMR affects us all and requires all of us to work together to help limit its risks and minimise its impact.
This includes medical doctors and vets who prescribe antibiotics, people who take the antibiotics prescribed by their doctors, and people who use antibiotics prescribed by their vets on the animals they care for.
What should we do about AMR?
We cannot reverse the AMR that has already occurred, but we can continue to minimise and slow any further development by taking responsibility and playing our part.
If you own a pet, or you manage and take care of animals, such as on a farm or in a shelter, then please take into account the following key messages:
- not all sick animals need antibiotics
- many minor infections and injuries can heal without antibiotics
- only give antibiotics to your animal if your vet prescribes them
- follow vet instructions fully when using a course of antibiotics.
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Take care of your animals
You cannot replace good animal care and management with the routine use of antibiotics. You should also vaccinate your animals against preventable diseases, provide them with proper nutrition, ensure housing is appropriate and provide a clean and low stress environment to keep them healthy.
Not all sick animals need antibiotics
Many infections and injuries in animals can heal without antibiotics. Antibiotics only work against bacteria and are not effective against other organisms such as viruses. Your vet may not prescribe antibiotics for your animals every time.
Only use antibiotics prescribed by your vet
Always seek advice and prescribed animal medications from a qualified and registered vet. Never use leftover medicines or medicines prescribed for a different animal to treat an animal you are caring for. Incorrect medication may not be effective and may harm your animal.
Follow vet instructions fully
Always give your animal the correct amount of antibiotic, at the correct time, for the correct period as instructed by your vet. Your animal's condition will more likely to improve. Ask for clarification if you are not sure. When caring for food producing animals, be aware of and follow the withholding period for each type of treatment.
Complete the course of prescribed antibiotics
Stopping treatment early without veterinary advice can result in resistant bacteria that are harder to control. Your animal may then be sick for longer or even not recover if bacterial resistance develops.
Refer to the factsheet on busting myths about antimicrobial resistance for advice about whether some common beliefs are true. Always consult your veterinarian for animal health advice and your general practitioner (GP) for human health advice.
- Factsheet – Busting myths about antimicrobial resistance
- Factsheet – Busting myths about antimicrobial resistance
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How is the threat of AMR being addressed in Australia and globally?
AMR is an international challenge. No country can address the serious global threat of AMR alone.
In 2015, the Australian Government released its first ever National Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy 2015-2019. It is jointly led by the Australian Chief Medical Officer and the Australian Chief Veterinary Officer, and has seven main objectives to:
- increase AMR awareness
- implement stewardships
- develop national surveillance
- improve infection prevention and control
- agree on a national research agenda
- strengthen partnerships and collaboration
- establish governance arrangements.
In May 2015, the World Health Organisation (WHO) adopted a Global Action Plan on AMR with objectives to improve awareness, strengthen knowledge base, reduce infections, optimise antimicrobial use, and to call for investment in new medicines and tools. The Australian strategy aligns with this action plan.
In 2016, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) compiled its AMR activities in the OIE Strategy on Antimicrobial Resistance and the Prudent use of Antimicrobials, which is aligned with the WHO global action plan. The OIE provides a framework with standards and guidelines for responsible use of antimicrobials and surveillance of resistance, communications and advocacy materials on AMR risks and measures that slow its spread, and science-driven tools and policies that enhance animal health and welfare.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has an FAO Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance 2016-2020 that outlines the FAO's approach and goals over the next five years, with consideration of relevant dimensions including animal and crop production, food safety, standard setting and legal considerations.
In June 2017, the European Commission (EU) adopted the new EU One Health Action Plan against AMR. The key objectives of the plan are built on three main pillars: making the EU a best practice region; boosting research, development and innovation; and shaping the global agenda.
Information for veterinarians
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Resources and presentations
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For more information and to watch presentations on AMR, please visit the resources and presentations page.