Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is an issue of great importance for health care in Australia and has been declared a significant threat to human health globally. AMR occurs when bacteria change to protect themselves from antimicrobials. This means that these antimicrobials are no longer effective in treating infections caused by particular bacteria. As a result, infections that could once be treated with, or prevented by, antimicrobials are becoming life threatening once more.
The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (the Commission) has developed the Antimicrobial Use and Resistance in Australia (AURA) to provide data and information about AMR, and also about antimicrobial use (AU), to help develop effective strategies to combat AMR in Australia.
This information is used to help clinicians, policy makers, program developers, health services, health service managers, state and territory governments, and the Australian Government take action
Microbes are bacteria, parasites, viruses, fungi and other microorganisms. Antimicrobials are medicines that are designed to treat or prevent infections caused by bacteria, parasites, viruses or fungi. They kill microbes or stop them from multiplying.
Bacteria, in particular, are present on all of our body surfaces, including on our skin, and in our nose, throat and gut. Almost all of these bacteria are beneficial to our health, but some can cause us to become ill if given the opportunity, such as Escherichia coli – the bacterium that causes many urinary tract infections. Other bacteria that do not live on us are also capable of causing infection, such as Clostridium tetani, the cause of tetanus.
Antimicrobials include antibiotics (antibacterials), antiparasitics, antivirals and antifungals. The information in this document relates to antibiotics, which are used to treat infections caused by bacteria. Antibiotics are the most commonly prescribed type of antimicrobial.
If you are prescribed an antimicrobial – especially an antibiotic – it is important that you follow your healthcare provider’s instructions on how to take the antimicrobial and how long to take it.
There are different types of antibiotics. Each is designed to work on specific bacteria or a specific range of bacteria. If the antibiotic kills (or stops from multiplying) a small number of different types of bacteria, it is called ‘narrow spectrum’. If the antibiotic kills several different types of bacteria, it is called ‘broad spectrum’.
Using antibiotics when we don’t need them may mean that they won’t work when we do need them in the future.