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B.C. landmarks join global campaign to highlight risk of antimicrobial resistance

BC Place, Science World, the BC Legislature and the Bastion in Nanaimo will be bathed in blue this week to raise awareness for antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and its health risks.
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​Thanks to the efforts of BCCDC’s Antimicrobial Stewardship program, the landmarks are joining others around the world to participate in the World Health Organization’s Go Blue Campaign during World Antimicrobial Resistance Awareness Week, November 18 to 24. 

Antimicrobial resistance happens when bacteria and fungi that cause infections evolve and develop resistance to antibiotic and antifungal medicines used to treat them. Once these germs develop resistance, it becomes very difficult to treat infections.

In 2019, a panel looking at the potential socio-economic impacts of antimicrobial resistance in Canada estimated that more than 5,400 Canadians die every year from infections caused by bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics. Furthermore, the Council of Canadian Academies estimated that approximately 26 per cent of infections in Canada are resistant to the first drugs used to treat them, and that AMR costs the Canadian healthcare system $1.4 billion annually. 

“Antibiotics work by killing bacteria. The bacteria that are not eliminated and continue to live become more resistant. If you repeat that many, many cycles, over time it gets much harder to treat infections,” said Dr. David Patrick, medical epidemiology lead for antimicrobial resistance and director of research at BCCDC. “What we want is those antibiotics to treat tough infections like pneumonia and bloodstream infections, but we don't want to waste them where they're not of benefit.” 

AMR is a leading cause of death, associated with an estimated five million deaths per year worldwide, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. It could potentially compromise crucial surgeries and treatments if left unaddressed.  

Dr. Ted Steiner, investigator at BC Children's Hospital and head of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of British Columbia, said AMR is a major problem for his patients. 

“Management of these antimicrobial resistant infections is one of the major reasons we get consulted, and these can be our most challenging cases. We frequently have to use more toxic, less effective antibiotics in these cases, and they are often extremely costly as well.” 

Steiner added that patients can develop serious side effects such as partial hearing loss, nausea, or kidney failure from antibiotics because there were no safer alternatives to treat their infections. 

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From left to right is Erica Chuang, Dr. Hannah Lishman, Gayatri Datar, Dr. Säde Stenlund, Kate O'Connor, Nick Smith and Dr. David Patrick.

Nick Smith, project manager of the Community Antimicrobial Stewardship program, said B.C. has one of the lowest antibiotic prescribing rates in Canada, and many resistance trends are stable or decreasing. 

‘The program is always monitoring trends of concern, and through an innovative partnership with LifeLabs, we are able to track resistance rates in the community via our Antimicrobial Stewardship Dashboard. AMR is a global concern though, and concerted worldwide action, like World AMR Awareness Week, is important to stopping the spread of drug-resistant infections. 

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