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Antimicrobial resistance: challenges ahead
  1. Jürgen Wallmann, DVM
  1. Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL), Post Office Box 11 02 60, 10832 Berlin, Germany
  1. email: juergen.wallmann{at}

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BACTERIAL resistance to naturally occurring antimicrobial agents first developed several million years ago (Bhullar and others 2012). However, it is only over recent years that resistant bacteria have been recognised as a major problem.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, penicillin and sulfonamides – the first natural and synthetic antibiotics – were discovered. Since then, antibiotics have revolutionised infectious disease treatment, suddenly making is possible to cure diseases that until then were almost invariably lethal (Meinert and John 2009). Large quantities of antibiotics were also used in agriculture and aquaculture. Because the efficacy of antibiotics was previously taken for granted, a period of unrestricted antimicrobial use, which to some extent continues today, followed.

It soon became apparent that when antimicrobials are used often and widely, resistance develops. However, there was a period of around 60 years following the discovery of antibiotics during which new antimicrobial molecules were continuously being discovered. For some time this masked a looming threat. Since the middle of the 1960s, and especially since the early 1990s, a trend of increasing resistance against antibiotics and a widening distribution of resistant bacteria has been recognised. By the late 1980s, scientists warned of bacterial infections that may once …

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