Preventing antibiotic resistant infections

Antibiotic resistant infections occur when bacteria become resistant to antibiotics. This may result in some infections becoming impossible to treat.

Antibiotic resistant infections are a threat to human and animal health and modern medicine. All prescribers and users of antibiotics have an important part to play in the prevention of antibiotic resistant infections.

What are antibiotic resistant infections and what is antimicrobial resistance?

Antibiotic resistant infections describes infections caused by bacteria that are increasingly able to resist the effects of antibiotics. These have direct impacts on you, the community and your animals. Unless action is taken, antibiotic resistant infections will become an increasing problem.

Antimicrobial resistance is a broad term that describes the ability of microorganisms (like bacteria, viruses, and some parasites) to stop antimicrobials (such as antibiotics, antivirals and antimalarials) working against them.

Research indicates that the term is not well understood, causing confusion about what is resistant (for example that misconception that the human/animal has become resistant to the antimicrobials). To be clear, it means that the microorganisms are becoming resistant to the antimicrobials.

What are antibiotics?

Antibiotics are used to treat or prevent the onset of bacterial infections in humans and animals. Their discovery, development and use has underpinned modern medicine since the 1940's, including treating once lethal infections, allowing routine surgeries and supporting treatment of cancers.

Antibiotics are used in human and veterinary medicine and dentistry both to treat infections and to prevent infections.

What causes antibiotic resistant infections?

Bacteria and other microorganisms naturally develop resistance to antibiotics over time through genetic changes. Some bacteria acquire the ability to resist antibiotics from other bacteria.

The inappropriate use of antibiotics accelerates the changes to the bacteria that allow resistance to develop and flourish.

Examples of inappropriate use include taking antibiotics for viral infections (colds and flu), prescribing when not genuinely required and overuse in animals and animal production.

How are antibiotic resistant infections spread?

Bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics are found in the environment, in people, animals and food and can be transmitted between these. Poor hygiene practices and infection control promote their spread in the community, in healthcare settings, on farms and within a household.

What is the relevance to me?

Articles in the media increasingly highlight cases where infections are getting harder to treat, or are not treatable at all. Tragic examples are posted on social media in which individuals have died or suffered severe complications from antibiotic resistant infections.

Antibiotic resistant human infections that are increasingly reported on include:

  • hospital acquired infections, for example MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and infection with Klebsliella pneumoniae.
  • tuberculosis.
  • sexually transmitted infections, for example gonorrhoea, syphilis and chlamydia.

Antibiotic resistant animal infections that are reported include MRSA in dogs, pigs and horses.

Antibiotic resistant infections are a global threat. Global coordination is required and countries are developing national plans to address the issue. Despite this, individuals can make a difference.

There are few new antibiotics in development so we need to preserve the effectiveness of those that we have now to ensure that infections can be treated into the future.

What can I do?

Become an Antibiotic Guardian

Agriculture Victoria has partnered with Australian bodies representing the human and animal health professions and livestock industries, and the UK-based Public Health England, to encourage people to commit to good antibiotic use practices.

You are encouraged to make a pledge to follow these principles by signing up to become an Antibiotic Guardian.

To become and Antibiotic Guardian, visit the Antibiotic Guardian website.

Page last updated: 28 Jun 2021