05 August 2019
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Research has found the increase in antimicrobial resistance (AMR) could lead to common bacterial infections becoming untreatable.

AMR occurs naturally, but emergence and spread of antimicrobial-resistant pathogens is accelerated by lifestyle factors, including excessive and inappropriate use of antibiotics, poor hygiene, poor infection control in healthcare, poor access to sanitation and drinking water, and increased international travel.

Associate Professor Deborah Williamson, acting director of microbiology at The Royal Melbourne Hospital found that while Australians have a high level of health care available, there is also a large reservoir of AMR.

“The bacteria have had millions of years of evolution on their side – so they have evolved to survive and adapt in a range of environments, in humans and animals,” A/Prof Deb Williamson, Deputy Director of the Microbiological Diagnostic Unit Public Health Laboratory at the Doherty Institute said.

“This is about highlighting what is on our doorstep and making that we’re prepared.”

Part of the rise of resistance is the increased use of antibiotics over the past seven decades as well as major changes such as; population growth, globalisation, geopolitical instability, climate change and food insecurity.

“All of these factors are inextricably linked to AMR and have contributed to the complexity of the AMR phenomenon,” A/Prof Williamson said.

The paper published in the Medical Journal of Australia, notes four pathogens that are highly resistant, and emerging, but not yet endemic in Australian health care and community settings.

While no cases have been detected in Australia, a drug-resistant typhoid from a Pakistan province has been reported in the US and UK, it is imperative travellers to Pakistan and clinicians treating patients returning from this region are award of these heightened health risks.

Also three separate cases of gonorrhoea resistant to the two dual first line treatments were detected in the UK and Australia.

“Genomic analysis revealed all three isolates were highly related suggesting circulation of this clone in South-East Asia. In the face of increasing cases of gonorrhoea in Australia a concerted national effort is required to respond to AMR, which should include reducing the number of circulating cases.”

In the past AMR has often been associated with hospitals, but A/Prof Williamson stresses this is a public health issue that needs to be addressed by the community.

“Australia is in a good place relative to the rest of the world but there are a number of things that can be done, firstly improving surveillance and technology, monitoring the appropriate use of antibiotics.”

Another key pillar to the successfully monitoring the issue is going back to basics – by preventing infection from happening in the first place.

“Good levels of hygiene and staying up to date with vaccinations are incredibly important.”

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