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ESR highlights need for monitoring of infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance as part of WHO Antibiotic Resistance Awareness Week

19 November 2021

Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR)

ESR is backing a call by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to ‘Spread Awareness, Stop Resistance’, as part of the focus of World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (WAAW) 2021 which is underway until 24 November.

Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) has been recognised as one of the most serious global public health threats in this century. ESR’s Antibiotic Reference Laboratory is the only laboratory in New Zealand responsible for overall national surveillance of antimicrobial resistance among human pathogens (microorganisms that cause disease), on behalf of the Ministry of Health.

ESR scientist and microbiologist, Dr Kristin Dyet, says a major worldwide study earlier this year, which ESR contributed to, highlighted COVID-19 had impacted the spread of bacterial disease, however we could expect increased infections when borders reopen.

“The study found the introduction of COVID-19 containment policies and public information campaigns had likely led to a significant reduction in life-threatening invasive diseases in many countries worldwide.

“Until then, it had been unclear how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the transmission and incidence of these bacterial diseases. Viral respiratory infections (such as SARS-CoV-2) are associated with an increased risk of subsequent bacterial infections, particularly pneumonia. On the other hand, the national lockdowns and public health campaigns introduced at the start of the pandemic may have reduced the transmission of bacteria that cause respiratory infections,” says Dr Dyet.

“With borders reopening around the world, it’s now more important than ever to monitor infectious diseases and any antimicrobial resistance.

“Unfortunately, in some countries antibiotic use has risen alarmingly, because people mistakenly believe antibiotics will help treat or protect against COVID-19 and purchase antibiotics without a proper consultation or prescription. In addition, due to lack of access to diagnostics many doctors have ended up prescribing antibiotics too often, to patients with viral respiratory diseases. Fortunately, this has not happened in New Zealand as we have good diagnostics and are not able to purchase antibiotics without a prescription,” says Dr Dyet.

Some countries have a much higher prevalence of AMR than others, while New Zealand generally has low rates of drug-resistant infections.

Some drug-resistant organisms are endemic in New Zealand, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Enterobacterales producing an extended spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL), whereas other drug resistant infections have either not been reported in New Zealand or are usually found in someone that has recently travelled overseas. 

“Infections caused by carbapenemase-producing Enterobacterales (CPE) need to be closely monitored. CPE are resistant to nearly all antibiotics. They are found relatively infrequently in New Zealand although numbers were increasing, until COVID-19 border restrictions were introduced. Most cases with CPE are likely to have acquired their infections overseas, although there are an increasing number of reports cases likely to have acquired their CPE in New Zealand,” says Dr Dyet.

ESR’s world-leading scientists are at the forefront of some of the most difficult issues faced by the country. As the specialist centre for super bug surveillance, ESR’s role as a reference laboratory helps to identify rare and emerging resistant bacteria for hospital and community laboratories, and in doing so, collects data and generates valuable information for government and health agencies.