Antibiotic resistance

Antibiotic resistance means that a bacterium becomes resistant to a certain antibiotic, and the antibiotic in question can no longer be used to treat infections caused by it. 

If antibiotic resistance becomes more common, people may die from ordinary infections, including pneumonia or a surgical site infection. More widespread antibiotic resistance would affect the entire healthcare system: cancer treatments, organ transplantation and intestinal surgery will become risky if infections can no longer be prevented by antibiotics.

Not only bacteria but also other microbes, such as viruses, fungi and protozoa, are showing signs of resistance to drugs used in treatment. This is why we often talk about antimicrobial resistance

Multi-drug resistance means that the microbe is able to resist several different drugs. 

Antibiotic resistance is a global problem

An increasing number of bacteria have developed a resistance to antibiotics, and the situation is getting worse. Thousands of people in Europe die each year from infections that can no longer be controlled by antibiotics. Most of the infections caused by resistant bacteria occur in hospital patients. A large proportion of infections caused by E. coli bacteria resistant to third generation cephalosporins occur outside hospitals.  

Antibiotics still have a good level of efficacy in Finland. Nevertheless, tackling antibiotic resistance should also be taken seriously in this country. 

Why is antibiotic resistance becoming more common?

Some bacteria are intrinsically resistant to certain antibiotics. In addition, resistance is generated whenever antibiotics are used. 

Excessive use and abuse of antibiotics promote the development and spread of drug-resistant bacteria. This way, bacterial strains initially susceptible to a particular drug become resistant to it as it is used. 

Antibiotic resistance is promoted by

  • Shortcomings in care facilities’ hygiene practices, including in hand hygiene, general cleaning and the cleaning of equipment used for procedures. 
  • Use of human antimicrobials in outpatient care, hospitals and other areas of healthcare.  
  • Use of veterinary antimicrobials in pets and farm animals. Antibiotics are used not only to treat infections in animals but also to promote the growth of farm animals and to prevent their infections.  
  • Importation of animals and foodstuffs. Animals may carry bacteria that are also resistant to antimicrobials used to treat infections in humans. Resistant bacteria may be transmitted from animals to humans through food (e.g. salmonella) or when a human comes into contact with an animal (e.g. MRSA). 
  • Tourism. Resistant bacteria spread to Finland from abroad with tourists, especially those who have been hospitalised outside the country.
  • Antibiotic pollution of the environment.

How can antibiotic resistance be prevented?

We can all participate in preventing antibiotic resistance. Preventing infections, stopping the spread of resistant bacteria, and using antibiotics responsibly play a key role in this.

Instructions for citizens

  • Look after your hand hygiene and guide your children to do the same. You should always wash your hands after using the toilet, sneezing or coughing and before you have a meal or start cooking.
  • Make sure that you and your children are protected by vaccinations. Many infections can be prevented by vaccinations.
  • Prepare food hygienically: keep cooked foods apart from uncooked ones, ensure that food is cooked properly, store foods at the right temperature, and select high quality foodstuffs. 
  • Use antibiotics as instructed by your physician. 
  • Do not buy over-the-counter antibiotics abroad, and do not use antibiotics prescribed to someone else or left over from a previous prescription.
  • Return unused antibiotics to a pharmacy.

Instructions for physicians and other healthcare professionals

  • Look after your hand hygiene.
  • Treat infections following the Current Care recommendations and the instructions for antimicrobial treatment issued by your workplace.
  • Only prescribe antibiotics following evidence-based guidelines.
  • If necessary, consult a communicable diseases control physician about the need for and choice of antibiotics.
  • Give the patient clear instructions on how to use an antimicrobial drug and when to stop taking it.
  • Explain to patients how common flu symptoms can be alleviated without antibiotics.
  • Explain to patients why it is important to follow the instructions when taking antibiotics.
  • Use screening cultures to identify patients who may have resistant bacteria and take the precautions indicated by the situation when treating them.

THL monitors antimicrobial resistance and the use of antimicrobials, and supports local and regional efforts to tackle antimicrobial resistance.
Surveillance of antimicrobial resistance