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Antimicrobial resistance

The ability of a micro-organism to grow or survive in the presence of an antimicrobial at a concentration that is usually sufficient to inhibit or kill micro-organisms of the same species.

Antimicrobial

A group of medicines including antibiotics, anti-viral and anti-fungal medicines. These are used to treat infections by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. 

Antibiotic

Medicine that is used to treat bacterial infections and works by killing or stopping the growth and reproduction of bacteria. These can be specific to a particular bacteria or act on groups of related bacteria.  

Glossary

A list of often difficult or specialised words with their definitions.

Bacteria

Single-celled organism. Has a cell wall, cell membrane, cytoplasm. Its DNA is loosely-coiled in the cytoplasm and there is no distinct nucleus

Fungi

Fungi (singular fungus) are either uni-cellular, as in yeasts, or multi-cellular, as in mushrooms, toadstools and moulds. Fungi have a nucleus, cytoplasm and a cell wall

Virus

The smallest of living organisms. Viruses are made up of a ball of protein that contains a small amount of the virus DNA. They can only reproduce after they have infected a host cell

Cell

The basic unit from which all living organisms are built up, consisting of a cell membrane surrounding cytoplasm and a nucleus.

One Health

One Health is a programme that recognises that the health of humans, animals and ecosystems are connected. In this approach, multiple disciplines work together locally, nationally, and globally to achieve the best outcome for human health, animal health and the environment.

The One Health approach can be applied to disease prevention, protecting the environment, the growing problem of antimicrobial resistance, and in treating and preventing animal and human disease. This involves tackling these problems from the perspectives of different sectors and aiming for a solution - or more often a combination of solutions – that results in the best outcome for all sectors.

Contents

The three sectors of one health: environmental health, human health and animal health
(Photo credit: Jessica Dobson)

Most bacteria we encounter are harmless – there are loads of bacteria that live on our skin and cause us no problems. In fact, it is estimated that there are 10 times more bacterial cells in our bodies than there are human cells!

A small number of bacteria can be harmful if they get inside our body, causing infection. Before antibiotics were developed, up to 90% of children who developed bacterial meningitis died – today, with treatment, that figure it is closer to 5 – 101, thanks to the development of medicines such as antibiotics.

Antibiotics treat bacterial infections in one of two ways: either killing the bacteria or stopping their ability to reproduce. If the infection is caused by a virus or fungus, anti-viral and anti-fungal medicines are used instead. Together, this entire group of medicines (antibiotic, anti-viral and anti-fungal) are called antimicrobials.

Infections caused by resistant bacteria cannot be treated with traditional antibiotics, because the bacteria that cause the infection have evolved to avoid the effects of the medicine. This growing problem is called antibiotic or antimicrobial resistance, and a lot of work is going into preventing further resistance from developing. These efforts to reduce the development of resistance are very important to try and ensure that antibiotics remain available and effective for the treatment of bacterial infections in people and animals.

It is important that the One Health approach is used when considering the future of medicines and disease prevention, by focusing on collaboration and communication between all the sectors involved.

The following pages look at the One Health approach to medicines, primarily in animals, measures of preventing disease, and antimicrobial resistance.

A medical illustration of drug resistant, Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria
A medical illustration of drug resistant, Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. Source: CDC Public Image Library, 2019. Medical illustrator: Meredith Newlove.

References

  1. WHO (2015), ‘Number of suspected meningitis cases and deaths reported.’ Link to source.

How to use this site

There are a number of interactive features in this e-source:

  • A glossary of terms: any word with a glossary entry is highlighted like this. Moving the mouse over the highlighted word will show a definition of that word.
  • Quick questions: at the end of most pages or sections there is a question or set of quick questions to test your understanding.
  • Animations: most of the animations can be expanded to full screen size, ideal for showing on an interactive whiteboard. The animations will play all the way through or can be viewed one section at a time.
  • Downloads: Teachers can download individual diagrams, animations and other content from the Download Library area of the website. Terms and Conditions apply.