Over 7 lakh people die due to antimicrobial resistance every year; experts recommend better hygiene at home, workplaces
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that AMR occurs when bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites change after being exposed to antimicrobial drugs (including antibiotics)
You may not realise this, given that the world is currently under the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, but antimicrobial resistance or AMR is one of the biggest challenges to global health, food security and development.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that AMR occurs when bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites change after being exposed to antimicrobial drugs (including antibiotics). These drug-resistant superbugs are very difficult to treat and as the medications become ineffective, the infection persists in the body and spreads more easily.
A study published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research in 2019 indicates that with 7,00,000 people losing their lives due to AMR every year — and with 10 million people projected to die from it by 2050 — AMR is claiming more lives than cancer and road accidents combined together.
The study also mentions that AMR has been rising disproportionately in India over the last few decades, and a multipronged approach is required to minimise its devastating effects.
Infection prevention beyond healthcare settings
Unfortunately, as a position paper recently published in the American Journal of Infection Control points out, most global and national action plans against AMR focus on infection prevention and control in healthcare settings.
Developed by public health experts associated with the Global Hygiene Council, this paper says that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the fact that daily hygiene practices like handwashing, wearing a mask and maintaining social distance can play a huge role in containing the threat from infectious microorganisms.
The main driver behind AMR and antibiotic resistance globally may be the overuse (or over-prescription) and misuse of antibiotics in both medicine and agriculture, but lack of awareness, poor healthcare infrastructures and low hygiene and sanitation in communities and homes are also responsible for this global threat.
The paper states that targeted hygiene practices combined with better provisions of clean water and sanitation can reduce the circulation of resistant bacteria in homes and communities, irrespective of how low or high a country’s Human Development Index (which signifies overall socioeconomic development) is.
A targeted hygiene action plan for AMR reduction
The paper recommends a holistic approach, which includes the reduction of antibiotic use in agriculture, tighter regulations of over-the-counter antibiotic sales, and a targeted hygiene approach in our homes and daily lives.
While the former two suggestions have to be state-regulated and controlled, the latter is mostly under the purview of every individual.
Adopting better hygiene practices in workplaces, schools, public transport, during leisure activities or simply while staying at home is the best protection against colonization of microbes and infections, especially since these are all avenues with the greatest risks of transmission.
These practices will in turn reduce the need for antibiotics, which will minimise the development of AMR. The following are the key steps of infection prevention, also known as breaking the chain of infection spread, that you should be adopting.
Of course, you might already be familiar with most of them due to the COVID-19 but the importance of these practices goes beyond just the current pandemic:
- Infectious microbes spread from infected persons via respiratory droplets, contaminated surfaces, water or food. Covering your face with a mask, frequent handwashing with soap and water, disinfection of high-touch surfaces and areas like bathrooms, etc are therefore necessary even beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Fecal matter poses huge risks of infection transmission, especially in the case of diarrhoea and gastrointestinal infection in India. Proper waste disposal, disinfection of bathrooms, handwashing, and waste-water treatment are necessary to reduce these infections.
- Infections like salmonella originate in the home and mostly via contaminated foods. Apart from buying and storing safe food products properly, cleaning of high-touch surfaces like utensils, chopping boards, utensil handles, etc should be done. Do not mix kitchen cleaning cloths, scrubbers or products in other parts of the household.
- Most pathogens die rapidly on dry surfaces, so your focus should be on keeping your body as well as your surroundings dry. Sinks, washbasins, drains, cleaning cloths and sponges should also be kept dry. Some species like E.coli and S.aureus can, however, survive on dry surfaces too, which is why proper and thorough disinfection is necessary.
- High levels of exposure and host susceptibility are important modes of entry and transmission where infections are considered. A healthy diet, exercise and other practices to improve immunity may prevent infections, and so can keeping at-risk groups like children, the elderly and the immunocompromised isolated and secure during outbreaks in the home and community.
For more information, read our article on Precautions to take with antibiotics.
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