It is getting tougher to treat severe infections in Malaysia, with bugs affecting patients becoming stronger against medicines.
This situation, known as antimicrobial resistance (AMR), is due to the over-prescription of antibiotics to patients. It’s also because of the overuse of antibiotics in food production, particularly in the poultry, livestock and aquaculture industries.
A growing number of bacteria now have higher resistance rates against antibiotics, with some as much as 61%, says Health Ministry Medical Development Division Infection Control Unit head Dr Suraya Amir Husin.
This means that there is a 61% possibility that the given antibiotic would not be effective in patients receiving the treatment.
“It threatens the ability of antibiotics to effectively treat severe infections.This has become a matter of grave concern globally and Malaysia is not spared,” she tells The Star, calling the situation worrying.
According to Dr Suraya, examples of such resilient bacteria are those that cause pneumonia, bloodstream infections, meningitis and even food poisoning.
The bug responsible for pneumonia, bloodstream infections and meningitis, known as A. baumannii, has become stronger, from a resistance rate of 49% in 2008 to 61% in 2016.
Salmonella, a group of bacteria known for causing food poisoning, also became more resistant, from 16.6% in 2009 to 25% in 2016.
Another bacteria, streptococcus pneumoniae (the most common cause of community-acquired pneumonia) is now 31% resistant to erythromycin, one of the most widely used antibiotics in treating respiratory tract infections.
It also isn’t helping that some illnesses, which do not require antibiotics, are being treated with such medication.
“Most colds, sore throats, and coughs are commonly caused by viruses. Hence, there is no need for antibiotics as it is only effective against bacteria,” Dr Suraya says.
She urges patients to stop asking doctors to give them antibiotics when they may not be appropriate as this could lead to dire consequences.
Concurring, Malaysian Medical Association president Dr Ravindran R. Naidu says antibiotics are “useless” against most viral fevers, coughs and colds.
“Even in bacterial infections, antibiotics must be carefully chosen. Doctors must know what the common bacteria for various infections in their practice are, and must know what antibiotics they are sensitive to,” he says.
Awareness is improving though, with more educated patients refraining from asking for antibiotics unless needed. While the Government has awareness campaigns about antibiotic abuse, patients should also learn to ask doctors more about their illness and their treatment. – The Star