Antibiotic resistance and risks to human health

Antibiotics provide effective treatment for a wide variety of infections and illnesses. Unfortunately, antibiotic resistance makes these things more difficult to treat. It also strains the healthcare system due to increased hospital stays and expensive treatments. Many people are at risk, especially those in long-term care facilities or who have weakened immune systems.

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Risks to human health

Antibiotic resistance is a public health concern around the world. The number of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics is increasing.

The danger of antibiotic resistance is that treatable illnesses, such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, or minor infections could become incurable. This would put a greater economic and emotional burden on families and on our healthcare system.

Antibiotic resistance results in a decreased ability to treat infections and illnesses in people, animals and plants. This can lead to the following problems:

  • increased human illness, suffering and death,
  • increased cost and length of treatments, and
  • increased side effects from the use of multiple and more powerful medications.

Infections caused by resistant bacteria may be resistant to more than one antibiotic. Few new antibiotics are being developed. So it is important that all Canadians help maintain the effectiveness of the antibiotics we have. We can do this through responsible antibiotic use, and infection prevention and control.

Who is most at risk

In general, certain groups of people have an increased risk for getting infections. This means they are also at an increased risk of antibiotic resistance.

At risk groups include:

  • infants, especially premature babies, as they may not have strong immune systems;
  • seniors, particularly those living in long-term care facilities or seniors' residences. This is because they:
    • may be exposed to more infections than the average person,
    • are in close contact with many others, and
    • may have a weakened immune system due to illness or extended antibiotic use.
  • people who are homeless or living in crowded or unhygienic conditions where it is easy to contract infections, and
  • people with weakened immune systems due to illness or injury.

At risk groups based on behaviours and settings include:

  • people in healthcare facilities and day care centres, or other settings where infections can easily spread, especially if infection prevention and control measures are not followed,
  • people who do not practice good infection prevention and control behaviours like hand hygiene,
  • people who do not store, handle or prepare food safely,
  • people who have occupations that put them at a greater risk for exposure to bacteria or infectious diseases such as:
    • physicians,
    • nurses,
    • veterinarians,
    • slaughter house and meat processing plants workers, and
    • farmers.

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