Some infections, such as a bladder infection or pneumonia, can be caused by bacteria. Infections caused by bacteria are generally treated with antibiotics. However, a bacterium can become insensitive to antibiotics. This is called resistance.

What is antimicrobial resistance?

Antibiotics are medications used to treat infections caused by bacteria. Bacteria can become insensitive (resistant) to antibiotics. If this occurs, the antibiotics cannot kill or inhibit the bacteria. The antibiotics then no longer work. This is called antimicrobial resistance. 
In addition to bacteria, other micro-organisms do not always respond well to treatment with medicines either. These micro-organisms include fungi, viruses and parasites. 

Antimicrobial resistance is a growing concern, because infections caused by resistant bacteria are more difficult to treat.

What causes antimicrobial resistance?

Some resistant bacteria may already be present at the start of an infection. Because these resistant bacteria are not inhibited or killed by commonly used antibiotics, they are able to multiply. Resistance to antibiotics develops due to long-term or repeated use of the same class of antibiotic. If an antibiotic is used too often, the bacteria will start to protect themselves against the medicine. Antimicrobial resistance can also be caused by incorrect use, for example if antibiotics are used when this is not actually necessary. 

Highly resistant micro-organisms (HRMOs)

More and more bacteria are becoming resistant to commonly used antibiotics. These antibiotics are also referred to as first-choice or first-line antibiotics. Bacteria that are resistant to commonly used antibiotics or to multiple classes of antibiotics are referred to as highly resistant micro-organisms (HRMOs). 

What does RIVM do to combat antimicrobial resistance (AMR)?

RIVM collects and analyses data about preventing antimicrobial resistance. Where necessary and possible, measures can be taken to reduce or combat antimicrobial resistance. We refer to this process of collecting data, analysing them and giving advice as ‘surveillance’. RIVM also contributes to the innovation of methods and research into antimicrobial resistance. More information is available on the page Role of RIVM. To reduce antimicrobial resistance, the Netherlands has adopted the One Health approach. For more information, visit the page International cooperation on antimicrobial resistance.

Animation: How to prevent the spread of resistant bacteria

Animation: Antibiotic resistance: why do some antibiotics fail?