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The growth and spread of antimicrobial resistance 

The risk

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) arises when germs that cause infection – including bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi – become resistant to the drugs designed to kill them and can no longer be treated.   

The most well-known type of antimicrobial are antibiotics, which treat bacterial infections. Other examples of antimicrobial drugs include anti-virals (eg HIV treatments), anti-parasitics (eg malaria treatments) and antifungals (eg Candida treatments).   

When antimicrobials become less effective, it is easier for infections to persist and spread. Although resistance does build up naturally, the misuse and overuse of antimicrobials in human and animal medicine, plants and crops is quickly speeding up this process.  

Resistant germs can be found in people, animals, food, water, soil and air and can spread between people and animals, through contact and food.   

The two issues are germs becoming more resistant to existing antimicrobials and not enough new antimicrobials being developed. If this pattern continues, we will eventually run out of effective antibiotics.  

The increase and spread of AMR could endanger lives and disrupt health systems, food systems and the economy.   

Drug-resistant infections are predicted to lead to 10 million deaths worldwide every year by 2050. This would make AMR a bigger killer globally than cancer is now.   

Have such events happened before?  

AMR is already affecting our ability to treat illnesses.  

AMR is currently estimated to cause approximately 2,000 UK deaths a year and more than 700,000 deaths globally. The current costs to the NHS are around £95 million per year.   

Resistant infections continue to increase. In 2018, there were over 60,000 severe antibiotic-resistant infections in England. This is equivalent to 165 new antibiotic-resistant infections per day and represents an increase of 9% on the previous year.    

What is being done?  

This is a national risk and not just one for Cambridgeshire. Further information, including what is being done about this, can be found on page 63 of the National Risk Register.