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Government launches online resource to fight antimicrobial resistance

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The Federal Government has used Antibiotic Awareness Week in November to launch a new online resource for industry and the community, as part of Australia’s ongoing work to tackle the rise of antimicrobial resistance.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs when microorganisms, like bacteria, that cause infections resist the effects of the medicines used to treat them, such as antibiotics.

As a result of antibiotic resistance, standard medical and veterinary treatments may become ineffective and infections may persist and spread to others.

The Government’s funding commitment to help tackle the rise of AMR is $27 million – including $5.9 million from the landmark Medical Research Future Fund.

The planned AMR website, is one of the first priority areas of the Implementation Plan. It will aim to provide information for the community, health professionals, animal health professionals, farmers, animal owners and the broader agriculture industry.

Australia is one of the developed world’s highest users of antibiotics – one of the main causes of AMR. In 2015, Australian doctors prescribed more than 30 million antibiotic scripts through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

Many patients are not aware that antibiotics only work against infections caused by bacteria and should not be used to treat viruses like colds, flu, bronchitis and most sore throats.

AMA President Dr Michael Gannon said in a recent ABC interview that AMR is a concern and there needed to be: “Better stewardship in hospitals, better education for GPs, but perhaps most importantly better education for people in the community for them to understand when antibiotics are not only not required, but they’re potentially dangerous or risky.”

AMR has both a health and economic impact with infections requiring more complex and expensive treatments, longer hospital stays, and it can lead to more deaths.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) believes global urgent change is needed in the way antibiotics are prescribed and used because antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today. Antibiotic resistance can affect anyone, of any age, in any country, including Australia.

WHO also believes that even if new medicines are developed, without behaviour change, antibiotic resistance will remain a major threat. Behaviour changes must also include actions to reduce the spread of infections through vaccination, hand washing, practising safer sex, and good food hygiene.

“A lack of effective antibiotics is as serious a security threat as a sudden and deadly disease outbreak,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO.

“Strong, sustained action across all sectors is vital if we are to turn back the tide of antimicrobial resistance and keep the world safe.”

A recent study published in the Medical Journal of Australia shows that antibiotic resistance is on the rise and is present in our communities in Australia.

Lead researcher Dr Jason Agostino from the ANU Medical School said about 60 per cent of drug-resistant staph infections were picked up in the community, so infection control needed to shift from hospitals to the community.

“The problem of infections resistant to antibiotics in our community is not just a theoretical problem that will happen some time in the future – it’s happening right now,” Dr Agostino said.

Until the early 2000s in Australia, staph infections resistant to antibiotics mostly occurred in hospitals. The researchers found hospital infection rates are improving, with decreased infections in two of the region’s largest hospitals.

The study found that patients most at risk of the drug-resistant staph infection in the community are young people, Indigenous Australians and residents of aged-care facilities.

“We also need to improve the way we share data on antibiotic resistance to staph infections and link this to hospitalisation across health systems,” Dr Agostino said.

You can find out more about the progress of the Implementation Plan actions in the National Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy Progress Report at www.amr.gov.au.