What is Antibiotic Resistance?

Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria develop defenses against the antibiotics designed to kill them. Antimicrobial resistance is a broader term that applies not only to bacteria but also to other germs, such as viruses or fungi, that may develop such defenses. This renders the drugs useless against the new resistant strains, allowing resistance to grow and spread to other germs, creating drug-resistant infections (sometimes known as superbugs) that can be difficult to treat. Bacteria and viruses become drug-resistant, people do not.

What Causes Antibiotic Resistance?

How antibiotic resistance spreadsAntibiotic resistance can develop anytime antibiotics are used, even when they are prescribed and used appropriately. In fact, antibiotic resistance can stem from many sources and occurs naturally as microbes evolve. However, the misuse and overuse of antibiotics contributes to the problem.

Antibiotics are not effective against viral infections like colds, influenza (flu), most sore throats, bronchitis, and many sinus and ear infections. Widespread use of antibiotics for these illnesses can promote the spread of antibiotic resistance.

Burden of Antibiotic Resistance

Antibiotics have made many other medical advances possible, including transplants and cancer treatments. If antibiotics lose their effectiveness, we lose the ability to treat many diseases and perform many routine surgeries.

Some estimates indicate that up to 50 percent of all antibiotics prescribed are not needed at all or are not prescribed appropriately. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antibiotic resistance threatens everyone.

  • Each year in the US, about 3 million people are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. About 35,000 people die as a result.
  • In the US each year, antibiotic resistance adds $20 billion in excess direct health care costs. Additional costs to society for lost productivity could be as high as $35 billion a year.
  • Hospital costs for a patient with an antibiotic-resistant infection can range from $18,500 to $29,000, depending on the type of infection.

Antimicrobial resistance can be costly and devastating for patients and families. Drug-resistant infections can lead to extended hospital stays, additional follow-up doctor visits, and the use of treatments that may be costly and potentially toxic.

As antibiotic resistance spreads, it makes the antibiotic less effective so new treatments have to be developed to combat the resistant bacteria. If there are no new drugs to fight the bacteria, treatment may be impossible. That’s why it’s important for individuals to use antibiotics only when needed, and for hospitals and healthcare systems to implement antimicrobial stewardship programs.