Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR): Superbug alert

Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR): Superbug alert

In recent years, the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has emerged as a significant global concern, affecting both human and animal health.

As a dedicated veterinary clinic in Cambodia, VSL strives to safeguard the well-being of our beloved pets while contributing to the broader efforts against AMR.

Long-time VSL veterinarian Dr. Juan explains everything you must know about superbugs, and how you can help to keep your pet, yourself, and your community healthy.

What are antimicrobials?

Antimicrobials is the name of the group of medicines used to treat infectious diseases caused by microbes such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoan parasites. You are probably already familiar with the class of antimicrobial medications known as antibiotics.


One of the most well-known antibiotics is penicillin. In general, antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections. However, antibiotics donโ€™t work against viruses. In fact, when antibiotics are used during a viral infection, this can be harmful as it can trigger the mutation of bacteria that normally live in our bodies.

Antibiotics in animal health

Over the years, the same trend of overprescribing and misuse of antibiotics in animals, particularly the routine use of antibiotics in farm animals, has led to the appearance of resistant bacteria. Most of them can be transmitted from animals to humans and vice versa, causing zoonotic diseases (diseases shared between animals and humans).


Antimicrobial agents, including antibiotics, are essential tools in veterinary medicine for treating bacterial infections in animals. Misuse of antibiotics and the resilient nature of some bacteria have led to the rise of what are called โ€œsuperbugsโ€. Superbugs are resistant bacteria that have developed and can be very difficult or impossible to treat.

This phenomenon occurs when bacteria develop the ability to resist the effects of drugs designed to kill them. Consequently, infections that were once easily treatable can become life-threatening, leading to prolonged illness, increased healthcare costs, and even mortality (death).

Examples of superbugs include:

  • Escherichia coli: Bacteria that is commonly found in the small and large intestines of humans, domestic animals, and wild animals. It can cause food-borne diseases and make urinary infections difficult to treat, especially in women.
  • Salmonella:  Usually found in the intestinal tract of many animals. It can cause foodborne diseases, serious intestinal infections, and blood poisoning that are often life-threatening.
  • Staphylococcus aureus: Commonly found in the skin of mammals. Can cause lethal infections and blood poisoning in immunosuppressed patients, like children, the elderly, or sick people being hospitalized.
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis: Bacteria found commonly in the respiratory tract of many animals and responsible for the tuberculosis disease, where antibiotic treatment is necessary for more than 6 months or even for a lifetime with little chance of being cured.

So, what does this mean for our region?

Current situation of AMR

The current scenario in human and animal health shows that some infections are becoming untreatable, and routine surgeries, both in humans and animals, could become life-threatening if a resistant bacteria lands on a surgery site. Currently, there is little hope that new antibiotics will be discovered soon, and only six new antibiotics have been discovered in the last decade.

In 2019, Antimicrobial Resistance caused more deaths than AIDS infections and Malaria. By 2050 AMR is projected to cause the death of up to 10 million people per year.

In Cambodia, where VSL operates, certain challenges exacerbate the AMR problem that contribute to the misuse of antimicrobial agents:

  • Limited awareness about responsible antibiotic use among the general population, pet owners, health facilities, and pharmacies
  • Misuse of prescribed and over-the-counter antibiotics (when there is no need/without correct diagnosis)
  • Lack of access to alternative treatments
  • Weak enforcement of regulations

Additionally, the cross-border movement of animals in this region can facilitate the spread of AMR across national boundaries.

The role of VSL in combating AMR

As advocates for animal health and welfare, we recognize our responsibility in addressing the AMR crisis. Here’s how our veterinary clinic is playing a crucial role:

  1. Promoting responsible antibiotic use: We are committed to educating pet owners about the proper use of antibiotics. This includes explaining dosage instructions, emphasizing the importance of completing the full course of treatment, and raising awareness about the dangers of using leftover antibiotics without professional consultation.
  2. Implementing infection prevention and control: Preventing infections from occurring in the first place is key to reducing the need for antibiotics. We prioritize hygiene and sanitation in our clinic, minimizing the risk of infections and reducing the demand for antimicrobial treatments.
  3. Advocating for regular check-ups: Regular veterinary check-ups enable us to detect health issues early, providing the opportunity for timely interventions that may not necessitate antibiotics. Preventive care also helps to maintain the overall health of animals, reducing the likelihood of infections.
  4. Exploring alternative treatments: We actively explore and recommend alternative treatments, such as probiotics, and immune-strengthening strategies, that can aid in managing infections without contributing to AMR.

What you can do to prevent AMR

You can actively participate in preventing Antimicrobial Resistance from becoming a greater threat to human and animal health by taking these actions:

  1. If your pet is sick, take it to a vet who will diagnose and suggest a treatment plan
  2. If you are instructed to give your pet antibiotics, thoroughly follow the instructions of your vet
  3. Never use over-the-counter antibiotics, left-over antibiotics, or human antibiotics for your pet
  4. Buy preferably organic and small-scale food products; they are less likely to use antibiotics as preventive medicine and as a growth promoter in their farm animals.
  5. Follow preventive medicine measures with you and your pet. Bring your pet to VSL for general checkups and regular vaccinations. Some bacterial diseases, like kennel cough and leptospirosis in dogs, can be easily prevented through vaccination.

Finally, keep in mind that health issues should be approached from a One Health perspective, where healthy animals, healthy people, and a healthy environment are all linked together.

Whatโ€™s next

Book your pet consult with Dr. Juan or his colleagues at VSL:

Visit us at our central BKK1 location (St. 334 #33, Corner St. 63). We are open Monday – Saturday (9am – 7pm) and Sunday (9am – 5pm).