What is antibiotic resistance?
Antibiotic Resistance is the ability of bacteria to resist the effects of antibiotics. Thus, the bacteria that is causing you to be sick no longer responds to the antibiotic (the antibiotic can no longer kill the bacteria, or stop the bacteria from multiplying) and you continue to be sick. Antibiotic resistance is a defense mechanism of bacteria that allows them to survive and multiply, even when an antibiotic is present.
How does antibiotic resistance occur?
Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in ways that reduce or eliminate the effectiveness of antibiotics to treat infections. When a person takes antibiotics, the susceptible (non-resistant) bacteria are killed but the resistant bacteria survive and continue to multiply. This can result in infections that may be difficult or impossible to treat. Further, resistance can also transfer from one bacterium to another, causing more problems.
While antibiotic resistance can occur naturally, misuse of antibiotics in humans accelerates the process. The more we use antibiotics, the more quickly bacteria outsmart them (become resistant). This is how repeated use of antibiotics (or unnecessary or incorrect use of antibiotics) can increase the number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Why is antibiotic resistance a concern?
Antibiotic Resistance is a major threat to human health and represents a danger to all of us. It makes it hard for doctors to help their patients. They can try different kinds of antibiotics, and some may work, but others may not. An infection that should be easy to treat may not be curable, and that may mean that you become even more sick. According to the World Health Organization, antibiotic resistance causes an estimated 700,000 deaths worldwide each year and, without effective action, is predicted to cause 10 million deaths annually by 2050.
How can we prevent antibiotic resistance?
Everyone can help prevent and stop the spread of antibiotic resistance. Here are some things you can do:
- Ask your doctor questions, such as: “Do I have a bacterial infection or a viral infection?”. Antibiotics don't work on viruses, such as the rabies virus.
- Let your doctor know what antibiotics you’ve used before, and how they worked for you.
- Learn about your illness, and what you can do to avoid getting it again.
- Take antibiotics as directed by your doctor. Your antibiotics will come with directions that tell you when to take it, how much to take, and any special notes (e.g., if it needs to be taken with food, or kept in the fridge).
- While you’re sick, stay away from other people as much as you can.
- Wash your hands frequently with plain soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially when your hands are visibly dirty. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.
- Keep the bathroom clean along with other shared surfaces in your home so you avoid spreading germs to others.
- Stay up to date with your immunizations. There are vaccines that prevent bacterial infections, such as pneumonia and meningitis. When you get vaccinated, it’s less likely you will get these infections and need antibiotics.
- Share what you’ve learned in this lesson with your family and friends.
Watch the videos from the Provincial Health Services Authority and the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention to learn more about antibiotic resistance. After watching the videos, test your knowledge with the quiz and earn vaccines!
These lessons were developed in partnership with the BC Centre for Disease Control’s Community Antimicrobial Stewardship Team.