Antimicrobial Stewardship is Everyone’s Job – Resist Resistance and Be a Good Steward of Stewardship

Published July 22nd, 2020 by Dr. Audrey Kostrzewa, PharmD, MPH, BCPS
Fact Checked by
Chris Riley

Has your doctor ever told you that you didn’t need an antibiotic when you were sick? Were you ever frustrated or confused why they didn’t want to give you medicine you thought might help make you feel better? 

Perhaps they explained that bacteria do not cause all sicknesses or infections, and therefore, antibiotics will not work. 

The truth is…they were absolutely right. 

If antibiotics are misused (e.g., prescribed for a viral infection), they could actually cause more harm than good. Let’s find out why!

What is an Antimicrobial?  

An antimicrobial is a medication used to treat infections from microorganisms (e.g., bacteria, viruses, fungi). It is a broader term that encompasses more commonly used terms such as antibiotic, antiviral, and antifungal. They are used to prevent and treat many important diseases. 

The. U.S. healthcare system and Western medicine as a whole would not be where it is today without them. Many surgeries, procedures, and treatments rely on the use of antibiotics and other antimicrobials. 

Aren’t Antimicrobial Medications Good? What’s the Big Deal? 

Yes, antimicrobials are great! They do an excellent job fighting infections that can be harmful to our bodies. The big deal is that microorganisms can change over time and become resistant to these medications. 

It is often referred to as antimicrobial resistance (AMR). This means that the medications will no longer work! Untreated infections can make us sicker and even spread to others. 

This can be time-consuming, very expensive, and even deadly – for example, if your antibiotic doesn’t work, you may need to be admitted to the hospital and have newer, more expensive, often injectable drugs instead. 

If you contract a multi-drug resistant organism (MDRO), also known as a “superbug”, with no known treatment, you could even die. Needless to say, AMR is a big deal.

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How Does Resistance Happen?

Microorganisms replicate quickly. During this replication process, genetic changes can occur (also known as mutations) that cause the organism to act differently in the body and react differently to medications. 

Think of it as a natural defense mechanism or survival of the fittest. The problem with these mutations is that they are unpredictable and vary greatly from one bug-drug combination to another. 

Developing new drugs to combat these resistant mutations is difficult because science and innovation take longer than these mutations require to pop up.

 It is truly a game of whack-a-mole! Using antimicrobial medications incorrectly or too much can make this process happen even faster than the natural process, making it harder for us to “win the game”.

Global Concern and Public Health Priority

In the U.S., at least 2.8 million people are infected with, and more than 35,000 people die from AMR bugs every single year. Just in the U.S. alone. 

Globally, AMR has popped up in infectious diseases such as tuberculosis (TB), HIV, and malaria. In addition, AMR affects more than just humans and healthcare; it affects animals and agriculture as well! 

The resistant bugs can spread between these industries and share their resistant abilities with each other. AMR is a complex problem with many contributing factors. It is a global threat and a major public health priority!

Population-Based Efforts and Stewardship

As you can see, AMR affects every country and touches many industries – AMR is EVERYONE’s problem. Coordinated action between governments, organizations, and individuals, are needed to slow the spread of this problem. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) are doing a lot to combat AMR. They are working with various other stakeholder organizations to implement important initiatives nationally and around the world. 

A broader term that encompasses all of these strategies, from an individual level to a global level, is antimicrobial stewardship. Antimicrobial stewardship is, “a set of coordinated strategies to improve the use of antimicrobial medications with the goal of enhancing patient health outcomes, reducing resistance [to antimicrobials], and decreasing unnecessary costs.”

Do your part to resist antimicrobial resistance – be a good steward of stewardship!

  • Help stop the spread of germs – regularly wash your hands, prepare food hygienically, avoid close contact with those who are sick, practice safe sex, and keep your vaccinations up-to-date.
  • Be a good steward! Only use antimicrobials 1) as directed 2) when prescribed for you by a 3) healthcare professional
    1. Follow the directions and make sure to finish the whole course
    2. Don’t share or use leftover antibiotics
    3. Don’t demand antibiotics if you have been told they are not necessary by a healthcare professional
  • Want to learn more and spread the word to your friends and family? Consider participating in the annual U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week/World Antimicrobial Awareness Week held each November. 

Reference List

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