Antimicrobial Resistance

Antibiotic vs. Antimicrobial Resistance: What’s the Difference?

One of the most significant advances in human history was the discovery of antibiotics. These drugs have saved millions of lives by fighting bacterial infections.

However, over time, bacteria have developed ways to become resistant to antibiotics, and unfortunately, the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is causing a severe public health threat. It is so serious that the World Health Organization has declared that antimicrobial resistance is one of humanity’s top 10 global public health threats.

So, what’s the difference between antibiotic resistance and antimicrobial resistance? Keep reading to find out.

What is antibiotic resistance, and how does it occur?

Antibiotic resistance develops when bacteria mutate and develop a new way to survive in the presence of an antibiotic. This can happen when bacteria are exposed to low levels of antibiotics over a long time, allowing them to evolve and become resistant.

Once resistance occurs, the antibiotic is no longer effective at treating infections caused by that particular type of bacteria.

One example of an antibiotic-resistant bacteria is MRSA or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. This bacteria is resistant to many different antibiotics, including methicillin. MRSA can cause serious infections, including pneumonia, sepsis, and skin infections. Patient, Vanessa Carter, had a complicated MRSA infection that took several rounds of treatment and surgeries to cure. 

What is antimicrobial resistance and how does it occur?

So now that we know that antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria develop the ability to survive after exposure to antibiotics, antimicrobial resistance (AMR)—on the other hand — is a broader term that includes resistance to all types of antimicrobial drugs, including antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals, and more.

One of the main ways that antimicrobial resistance can occur is through the overuse or misuse of antimicrobial drugs. When these drugs are used unnecessarily, it gives bacteria the opportunity to develop resistance. That’s why it’s so important to only use antimicrobial drugs when they are absolutely necessary.

One example of antimicrobial resistance is the development of drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB). TB is a serious lung infection that caused 1.5 million deaths in 2020 (including 214,000 people with HIV).

There are now strains of TB resistant to many different antimicrobial drugs, including many antibiotics used to treat it. This makes treating TB very difficult and often requires expensive and sometimes toxic drugs. Patient, Neraj Tiwari, required nine months of treatment to eradicate the infection. 

What are the dangers of antibiotic and antimicrobial resistance, respectively?

Let’s start with antibiotic resistance — the dangers of antibiotic resistance are two-fold. First, it can make infections more difficult to treat. When bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, those antibiotics are no longer effective at treating infections caused by that bacteria. This can lead to longer-lasting and more severe infections.

Second, organisms with antibiotic resistance, like MDR-TB, can spread from person to person. When someone has an infection that is resistant to antibiotics, they can — sometimes easily — pass that infection on to other people.

The dangers of antimicrobial resistance are similar to the risks of antibiotic resistance. Antimicrobial resistance is a broader term, encompassing resistance to drugs that treat infections caused by other microbes, such as parasites, viruses, and fungi. Antimicrobial resistance can make infections more difficult to treat, and it can also spread from person to person. However, antimicrobial resistance has a larger impact as it includes infections like Candida auris, Aspergillus fumigatis, and Plasmodium falciparum (Malaria)

This means that antimicrobial resistance can potentially make infections very difficult or even impossible to treat. Both antibiotic and antimicrobial outcomes have serious consequences for public health.

Preventing infections from occurring

How can we prevent antibiotic and antimicrobial resistance from occurring?

There are a few key things that we can do:

  • Proper use of antibiotics: only use antibiotics when a doctor prescribes them.

  • Always take the full course of antibiotics, even if you feel better before finishing the entire prescription.

  • Never share antibiotics with other people or use them for purposes other than what they were prescribed for.

  • Properly clean and disinfect any wounds or cuts.

  • Wash your hands frequently and properly, especially before you eat or prepare food.

  • Avoid contact with sick people whenever possible.

It is also important to get vaccinated against infections that are resistant to antimicrobial drugs. Some of these vaccines are already available, and more vaccines are being developed.

As we’ve learned, antimicrobial resistance is a serious global health threat that can have devastating consequences.

It is important that we all take action to prevent infections from occurring and slow the spread of resistant bacteria. You can start by downloading our AMR Activation Kits, which provide tips on how you can help reduce the spread of AMR in your community.

Together, we can fight antibiotic resistance and preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics for generations to come.

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