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Published on Mar 15, 2017
Disease-causing microbes are known as pathogens; although sometimes they are simply referred to as “germs” or “bugs.” Since the 1940s, antibiotics and similar drugs, together called antimicrobial agents, have greatly reduced the number of illnesses and deaths from diseases caused by microorganisms.
These pathogens can be found in the environment (air, water and soil) and in people and animals. Unfortunately, all types of microbes have the ability to develop resistance to the drugs created to destroy them, becoming drug-resistant organisms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines antimicrobial resistance as the ability of microbes to resist the effects of drugs – that is, the germs are not killed, and their growth is not stopped.
Although antimicrobial resistance through genetic changes can occur naturally over time, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that the misuse and overuse of antimicrobials is accelerating this process. In 2016, the WHO reported that antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is an increasingly serious threat to global public health that requires action across all government sectors and society. It also proclaimed that antimicrobial resistance threatens the effective prevention and treatment of an ever-increasing range of infections caused by bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi.
Although some people are at greater risk than others, no one can completely avoid the potential hazards associated with antimicrobial resistance and antibiotic-resistant infections. Infections from these pathogens are difficult to treat, requiring costly and sometimes toxic alternatives. In fact, each year in the United States alone, the CDC reports that at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, and at least 23,000 people die annually as a direct result of these infections. Many more people die from other conditions that were complicated by an antibiotic-resistant infection.
These are just a few things to know about antimicrobial resistance and environmental pathogens. To learn more about this or other microbial, environmental, air quality, occupational, health or safety issues, please visit the websites shown below.