Don’t let the germs win, read this guide
Originally published on The Hindu
Antimicrobial resistance is a public health problem and here’s what you should know about it, even if you’re not a doctor
World Antibiotic Awareness week (November 12-18) went by without a whimper. But it’s important for everyone to begin to talk antibiotics, because we’ve got to stop the spread of antimicrobial resistance. Here’s why, in a de-jargonised way.
1. What is antimicrobial resistance?
Imagine a micro-organism, like bacteria, virus, and some parasite (such as malarial parasite), in our body. Now imagine they’re going about wreaking havoc inside. The doctor gives you a course of antibiotics (or an antiviral or an anti-malarial), but the micro-organism has the power to stop the work of the medicine. It’s really developed a resistance to it.
2. What is the difference between antibiotic and antimicrobial resistance?
Antibiotic resistance is specific to these drugs and their ineffective action on bacteria. Antimicrobial resistance is a broader term, encompassing resistance to drugs that treat infections caused by other microbes as well, such as parasites, viruses and fungi.
3. How does this resistance develop?
Micro-organisms can develop resistance mainly in two ways: intrinsic resistance and acquired resistance. Intrinsic resistance refers to the innate ability of an organism to resist a class of antimicrobial agents due to its inherent structural or functional characteristics. Acquired resistance refers to micro-organisms acquiring the gene coding for resistance. It’s kind of like hacking, except it’s happening inside our bodies!
4. Which type of resistance is more common?
Acquired resistance is more common than intrinsic resistance. Very few organisms show intrinsic resistance.
5. What are the reasons for the problem?
Overuse and misuse of antimicrobial agents is the single most important cause of development of resistance. For instance, when antibiotics (which are meant for bacterial infections only) are taken by people with viral infections like colds and flu. They are also used indiscriminately as growth promoters in animals or used to prevent diseases in healthy animals. Poor infection control practices in hospitals, in the hospitality sector, and at home can cause the spread of disease, fuelling the high use of these drugs.
6. What are the effects of antimicrobial resistance?
Anyone, of any age, can be faced with the problem. In 2016, upto 4,90,000 people developed multi-drug-resistant TB globally, and drug resistance is starting to complicate the fight against HIV and malaria as well. Infections caused by the resistant microorganisms fail to respond to the standard treatment, resulting in prolonged illness, higher healthcare expenditure, and a greater risk of death. Hospital-acquired infection in those who are vulnerable with resistant strains, is another major threat in India, and leads to transmission of infections to others in the hospitals and community. The success of treatments, such as organ transplantation, cancer chemotherapy and major surgeries would be compromised without effective antimicrobials.
7. Is there hope?
Yes. Under various National Health Programmes, there are definite policies and guidelines for appropriate use of antimicrobials. In addition, a national antibiotic policy is being prepared, which hospitals are expected to incorporate into their guidelines.
Listen to your doctor
Always take antimicrobials only when a doctor writes a physical prescription for you. These are not OTC drugs.
Never self-medicate, or share meds with family or friends.
Use the prescription as your bible, not a rough guide to meds. So if it tells you to take it thrice a day, do so.