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Background: What is antimicrobial resistance?

Links to activities: comic strip, bacterial resistance, antibiotic awareness and colour change, and debate kits.

Antimicrobials are medicines that help your body fight infection by killing microbes including bacteria (antibiotic agents), viruses (antiviral agents) and fungi (antifungal agents). They are often made from compounds produced by other bacteria and fungi that destroy or limit the growth of specific microbes.

Text - "Antimicrobials are medicines that help your body fight infection by killing bacteria (antibiotics), fungi (antifungals), and viruses (antivirals).

Antibiotics are antimicrobials that target bacteria only. They were not largely used until the 1940s when researchers were able to make them into medicines for large-scale use. For the first time, effective treatment for some of the most serious infections, like tuberculosis, syphilis and bacterial pneumonia, became available.

Antibiotics do not kill viruses or fungi as these have a different structure. Because of this, antibiotics cannot treat viral illnesses, such as coughs and colds, or fungal illnesses, such as athlete’s foot. There are several types of antibiotics that work on different types of infections. Most antibiotics have no effect on the immune system.

Examples of antibiotics include:

  • Amoxicillin
  • Clarithromycin
  • Trimethoprim
  • Tetracycline
  • Ciprofloxacin

Painkillers such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, aspirin and codeine are not antibiotics.

The video below provides information on how antibiotics work. It can be used within a classroom discussion for older children (KS3-4).

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

After being in contact with antibiotics, some bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics and are no longer effectively killed by them. This causes a serious health risk because without good antibiotics:

  • Common infections like urinary tract infections may need more toxic antibiotics or hospital treatment.
  • Most surgeries, including Caesarian sections, will be much riskier to undertake because they rely on antibiotics to ward off infection.
  • Treatments that weaken people’s immune systems and put them at risk for severe infections, such as cancer treatment, may no longer be safe.
  • Infections that were once treatable, like tuberculosis, can become much more difficult to treat.

Did you know? A report in 2016 indicated that about 700,000 people die every year globally because of antimicrobial resistance (about 5,000 in the UK). If no action is taken this could rise to 10 million per year by 2050 and lead to a cumulative global cost of 100 trillion US dollars!

Video: How antibiotic resistance arises

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Video: Consider watching this video on how antibiotic resistance spreads if you would like to teach detailed content to older children.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

A PDF summary of the videos can be found in the downloads section below.

For similar videos, you can access the collection here. These videos are part of a collection designed to help older children (over 14 years) understand antibiotics and vaccinations, and can be used in class, as part of coursework and for revision.

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