Antimicrobial resistance is a growing public health threat in Canada and worldwide. This is a global issue which requires global consideration and innovation.

World Antimicrobial Awareness Week, from November 18-24, provides us with an opportunity to learn about the important actions we can take to maintain the effectiveness of antimicrobial drugs that protect the health of people, animals and their shared environment.

Antimicrobial resistance occurs when bacteria and other germs develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them. Although this can happen naturally, it is accelerated by the overuse and unnecessary use of antimicrobial drugs. These resistant bacteria are present in the environment and antimicrobial resistance may be transferred between and among different species affecting the health of humans and animals. Research and innovation contribute to having new or improved strategies such as antibiotic drugs, diagnostic tests and surveillance programs. Without working antimicrobial drugs, routine surgeries like hip replacements, common illnesses like diarrhea, minor injuries from accidents, infections such as pneumonia and strep throat and even cuts and scrapes, can become life threatening.

The Council of Canadian Academies report on antimicrobial resistance suggests in 2018, 5,400 deaths were directly attributable to antimicrobial resistance, and that more than 20,000 hospital patients acquired infections that are resistant to available antimicrobial drugs. If this issue is left unchecked, we risk returning to an era when common infections were incurable, undermining modern medicine and treatments we have come to rely on. Whether you prescribe, administer, or consume antimicrobial drugs to treat an infection, the decisions you make for their use have an impact.

As drug-resistant infections become more common and can affect anyone, it becomes crucial to not only recognize how and when antimicrobial drugs should be used, but to address antimicrobial resistance using a One Health approach, which considers the intersections between humans, animals and the environment. We all have an important role to play in minimizing the impact of this global public health challenge to limit the development and spread of resistance. Unnecessary antimicrobial use, the failure to complete or follow prescription guidelines, and improper disposal methods threaten the availability of effective antimicrobials to combat infections. Understanding antimicrobial prescription and use in the context of sociocultural drivers is also pivotal to facilitating action, which is further explored in my second public health spotlight report—Handle with Care: Preserving Antibiotics Now and Into the Future.

We must take collective action today, and make wise choices to safeguard our ability to treat infections in the future. By seeking and following appropriate medical advice, avoiding the unnecessary use of antimicrobial drugs, and following guidelines for safe disposal, we can all reduce the impact of antimicrobial resistance and contribute to healthier outcomes for everyone. More information on the safe use of antimicrobial drugs is available at Canada.ca/antibiotics.

Dr. Theresa Tam
Chief Public Health Officer

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