About AMR

Key facts

  • Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) threatens the effective prevention and treatment of an ever-increasing range of infections caused by bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi.
  • AMR is an increasingly serious threat to global public health that requires action across all government sectors and society.
  • Without effective antibiotics, the success of major surgery and cancer chemotherapy would be compromised.
  • The cost of health care for patients with resistant infections is higher than care for patients with nonresistant infections due to longer duration of illness, additional tests and use of more expensive drugs.

What is AMR?

AMR happens when microorganisms (such as bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites) change after exposure to antimicrobial drugs (such as antibiotics, antifungals, antivirals, antimalarials and anthelmintics). As a result, these medicines become ineffective and infections persist in the body, increasing the risk of spread to others.

Microorganisms that develop resistance to antimicrobials are sometimes referred to as “superbugs”.

Why is AMR a global concern?

New resistance mechanisms are emerging and spreading globally, threatening our ability to treat common infectious diseases and resulting in prolonged illness, disability and death.

Without effective antimicrobials for prevention and treatment of infections, medical procedures such as organ transplantation, cancer chemotherapy, diabetes management and major surgery (for example, caesarean sections or hip replacements) become very high-risk.

AMR also increases the cost of health care with lengthier stays in hospitals and the requirement of more intensive care.

AMR is putting the gains of the Millennium Development Goals at risk, and now endangers the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

What accelerates the emergence and spread of AMR?

AMR occurs naturally over time, usually through genetic changes. However, the misuse and overuse of antimicrobials is accelerating this process. In many places, antibiotics are overused and misused for people and animals, and are often given without professional oversight. Examples of such misuse include taking antimicrobials for viral infections such as colds and influenza, and giving antimicrobials to animals and fish as growth promoters.

Antimicrobial-resistant microbes are found in people, animals, food and the environment (in water, soil and air). They can spread between people and animals, and from person to person. Poor infection control, inadequate sanitary conditions and inappropriate food handling encourage the spread of AMR.