What does antibiotic resistance have to do with me?

Infections caused by resistant bacteria are associated with increased mortality and lower quality of life, because treatment is more difficult, often lasts longer, and is more expensive.

Anyone can catch an infection

GPs (general practitioners) as well as dentists, gynaecologists, dermatologists and many other specialists use antibiotic drugs for a wide range of bacterial infections, from less serious urinary tract infections to potentially life-threatening conditions such as pneumonia, meningitis or bacterial septicaemia. Nobody can claim immunity from bacterial infection, which can be picked up during everyday life or in a hospital or healthcare facility. Infections can also appear after an accident or as a complication of a non-infectious disease.

Over one-quarter of all hospitalised patients in Switzerland receive antibiotics. This is necessary to prevent or treat infections linked to surgery or to complications of the disease for which the patient was initially hospitalised. Antibiotics are also frequently used to prevent infections in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. They can also help treat complications of common conditions such as foot ulcers caused by diabetes.

Antibiotics are a mainstay of modern medicine. These are some of the most important areas in which they are uses:

Ambulanter Bereich

In outpatient (primary) care, they are used to treat the most common bacterial infections.

Bilder Spital Eingriffe Chemotherapie

In hospitals, they enable operations that would have been inconceivable a hundred years ago: organ transplants, chemotherapy for cancer, immunosuppressant treatments to provide relief in certain autoimmune conditions (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease).

Antibiotic resistance kills

The global number of deaths due to antibiotic resistance is not known, because in many countries this information is not indicated on death certificates. In the European Union, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has estimated that around 25,000 people die every year for this reason. In Switzerland, the only available data are for healthcare-associated infections: every year, some 70,000 patients pick up a bacterial infections in hospital, resulting in approximately 2000 deaths, some of which may be attributable to resistant bacteria.

Antibiotic resistance increases health costs

Infections due to antibiotic-resistant bacteria are among the most difficult to treat, and in rare cases they are not treatable at all, which is why expressions such as ‘super-bugs’ have been bandied about. Some of these resistant bacteria – fortunately not all of them – are more virulent or more toxic for the human body, and therefore more likely to produce serious disease.  

Infections caused by resistant bacteria are associated with increased mortality and lower quality of life, because treatment is more difficult, often lasts longer, and is more expensive. To treat such resistant infections, it is often necessary to resort to other classes of antibiotics, which are more expensive and may have more side effects or may need to be injected directly into the bloodstream.  

At the global level, the economic impact of antibiotic resistance on health costs has been estimated at several billion US dollars per year. The World Bank has calculated that the annual costs of antibiotic resistance are comparable with the losses sustained in the financial crisis of 2008.

Why can’t we just develop new antibiotic drugs?

New antibiotics are not enough to halt the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Above all, antibiotics must be used properly, because experience shows that bacteria develop resistance only a few years after a new class of antibiotic hits the market.

The short life span of antibiotic drugs

Data for when a drug is first marketed and when the first resistant bacte-ria are identified, for various classes of antibiotic. In some cases, resistant bacteria were observed before marketing even began. This was the case for the first antibiotic drug, penicillin, which was discovered in 1928 only launched on the market in 1940.
Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control 2015 4:49 (modified)

Today, the extensive clinical trials that are required before a new antibiotic can be authorised and prescribed to patients take around ten years and are very costly. This is why Switzerland has decided to join the Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership (GARDP).

Last modification 30.01.2019

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Federal Office of Public Health FOPH
Communicable Diseases Division
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