The superbug threat: Everything you need to know

A nurse preparing antibiotics for a drip

A new report has highlighted that antimicrobial resistance (AMR) - which includes antibiotic resistant bugs - will become a greater threat to mankindthan cancer currently is.

Here's what you need to know about AMR.

  • What are antimicrobial drugs?

These are the drugs which destroy harmful microbes. Antibiotics are the best known of these drugs, but there are others, such as antivirals, antimalarial drugs and antifungals.

  • What is antimicrobial resistance?

AMR occurs when microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites evolve to resist the drugs that combat the infections that they cause, making the drugs ineffective. As a result, standard treatments become ineffective, infections persist and may spread.

  • How does this happen?

AMR has occurred for multiple reasons. The World Health Organisation states that AMR is facilitated by the inappropriate use of medicines, for example, when taking substandard doses or not finishing a prescribed course of treatment. Low-quality medicines, wrong prescriptions as well as poor infection prevention and control.

  • Why is it a problem?

The WHO has warned that many infectious diseases may one day become uncontrollable. Resistance has become a serious issue because the number of new antimicrobial drugs in the pipeline has slowed drastically while antibiotic use, and therefore resistance, is rising.

  • What are the dangers if nothing is done?

Experts have estimated that by 2050, 10 million lives could be lost every year as a result of drug-resistant infections. If antibiotics lose their effectiveness then key medical procedures - including gut surgery, caesarean sections, joint replacements, and chemotherapy - could become too dangerous to perform.

  • What infections should not be treated with antibiotics?

Viral infections should not be treated with antibiotics. Common infections caused by viruses include: colds, flu, some sore throats, most coughs and bronchitis, many sinus infections and many ear infections.

The Royal College of GPs said that family doctors come under "enormous pressure" from patients to prescribe antibiotics. It has called for better public awareness of the fact that prescribing antibiotics is not always the answer to treating minor, self-limiting illness.