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AMR 2022

Covid-19 slowed antimicrobial resistance progress

iStock / Getty Images Plus / Manjurul

Michael Craig MPP

Director of Antibiotic Resistance Coordination and Strategy Unit, Center for Disease Control and Prevention

The discovery of penicillin 94 years ago revolutionised bacterial infection treatments. However, germs adapt; and today, antimicrobial resistance is one of the most significant threats to public health worldwide.

Antimicrobial resistance (AR) is a growing global health threat. AR occurs when germs like bacteria and fungi develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the United States was making steady progress in reducing healthcare-associated infections, including those caused by antimicrobial-resistant germs. Those numbers reversed in 2020, partly due to the inappropriate use of antibiotics and overwhelmed healthcare systems focused on battling Covid-19. Preventing infections and improving antibiotic and antifungal use are crucial to stemming the resistance tsunami facing all of us.

Antimicrobial-resistant infections

Antimicrobial resistance killed at least 1.27 million people worldwide and was associated with nearly 5 million deaths in 2019. In the United States alone, CDC’s 2019 ‘AR Threats Report’ estimated more than 3 million antimicrobial-resistant infections occur each year, with 48,000 deaths.

During the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, resistant infections and deaths increased by at least 15% compared to 2019 in the US. This significant rise represents at least 29,400 lives lost from AR commonly associated with healthcare. The overall burden of AR in 2020 is likely much higher, as the pandemic created gaps in the data collected. It is a sobering thought to know that many of these infections are preventable.

During the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, resistant infections and deaths increased by at least 15% compared to 2019.

Prevention works

We know what works to fight antimicrobial resistance — preventing infections in the first place. CDC reported in 2019 that dedicated prevention and infection control efforts drove down deaths from antimicrobial-resistant infections by 18% overall and by nearly 30% in hospitals from 2012 through 2017 in the United States. The data shows that these reductions continued until 2020. However, the pandemic created challenges, including stress on healthcare systems, the spread of more resistant infections, increased antibiotic use and fewer data and preventive actions. To turn the tide, we must focus on preventing infections and improving antibiotic/antifungal use wherever they are used. You can protect yourself, your family and your loves ones and help slow antimicrobial resistance.

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