• Infectious Diseases A-Z: The fight against antibiotic resistance

pills, medicine, antibiotic, syringe with the the word antibiotic on a piece of paperAntibiotics have been credited with saving countless lives. Penicillin, discovered in 1928 by Sir Alexander Fleming, is recognized as one of the greatest advances in therapeutic medicine. The life-saving drug, which was first mass produced in the U.S. during World War II, helped launch the golden era of antibiotics. Today, medical researchers have a concern about these medications: overuse and misuse of antibiotics, leading to antibiotic resistance.  Mayo Clinic pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse says antibiotic resistance is a serious public health threat.

"We are at the threshold of a post-antibiotic era – a time where the antibiotics we currently have will not work due to bacteria becoming resistant to them," says Dr. Rajapakse. " This could mean that even a simple skin infection or urinary tract infection could become untreatable. This would also affect our ability to provide other important lifesaving therapies like chemotherapy or organ transplants whose success depends on our ability to treat the complications and risks associated with them – one of the biggest of which is infections. We really need to start acting now to prevent this from happening."

Watch: Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse discusses antibiotic resistance.

Journalists: Broadcast-quality sound bites are in the downloads.

The difference between an antimicrobial and antibiotic

"Antimicrobials are a large category of medications that work against bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites, whereas the term antibiotic we use more specifically for medications that work against bacteria only. An example of an antibiotic would be penicillin or amoxicillin, probably some of the most common antibiotics that are prescribed. An example of an antimicrobial would be oseltamivir, or Tamiflu."

The best way to fight antibiotic resistance

Dr. Rajapakse says overuse of antibiotics is the single biggest driver of the development of antibiotic resistance. "The best way to help to combat this, or at least slow down the process, is to be more careful and more mindful of how we’re using our antibiotics. These are very precious resources that we want to remain effective for as long as possible because they are life-saving medications."

What we know about Candida Auris

Antimicrobial resistance is not limited to only bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics.

"We are seeing increasing drug resistance in viruses, fungi, and parasites as well. Candida auris, a type of yeast that is causing serious infections in hospitalized patients around the world, is an example of a fungus that is multi-drug resistant. This specific type of Candida can be resistant to three major groups of anti fungal drugs that we use to treat other Candida infections which makes it very difficult to treat." -Dr. Rajapakse

Dr. Rajapakse says this is a concern is because it can be spread from patient to patient and can survive on surfaces in hospitals and health care facilities. "This organism has caused infection in patients of all ages ranging from premature babies to elderly patients and has been reported in over a dozen countries around the world." She continues, "Most of the Candida auris infections described to date have been bloodstream infections, wound infections, and ear infections. We are still learning a lot about this organism, including the best ways to test for and identify it in the lab."

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