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Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a serious problem that affects millions of lives worldwide. It happens when microorganisms, such as bacteria, become resistant to the medicines that are used to treat them, such as antibiotics. This means that common infections may become harder or impossible to cure, and lead to more deaths and complications. However, many people are not aware of the dangers of AMR and how to prevent it. One of the reasons for this is the way AMR is communicated to the public, says new research.

Anti-microbial resistance and AMR  are not suitable for public health communication, as they do not evoke enough concern or attention from the public. – Dr. Eva Krockow

A new study by Dr. Eva Krockow from the University of Leicester and her colleagues published in Medicine Communications examined how different terms related to AMR are perceived and remembered by the public. They tested six AMR-related terms (“antimicrobial resistance”, “AMR”, “antibiotic resistance”, “bacterial resistance”, “drug-resistant infections”, and “superbugs”) and 34 other health risk terms (such as “cancer” and “Ebola”) on a sample of 237 US and 924 UK participants. They asked the participants to rate the terms on how much risk they associate with them, how well they remember them, and how easy they are to pronounce and understand.

Antimicrobial resistance and AMR lowest-scoring terms

The results showed that the term “antimicrobial resistance” and its abbreviation “AMR” were among the lowest-scoring terms for both risk association and memorability. This suggests that these terms are not suitable for public health communication, as they do not evoke enough concern or attention from the public. Out of the AMR terms, “antibiotic resistance” and “drug-resistant infections” performed better, as they were more familiar and concrete to the participants. The researchers also found that linguistic attributes, such as familiarity, processing fluency, and pronounceability, were predictors of the terms’ risk association.

Rename AMR

The study highlights the need to rename AMR with a more memorable and effective term that can convey the seriousness of the problem and motivate people to change their antibiotic use. The researchers suggest that the new term should be based on the existing terms that performed well, such as “antibiotic resistance” or “drug-resistant infections”, and avoid using abstract or technical words, such as “antimicrobial” or “resistance”. They also recommend that the new term should be consistent across different sources and contexts, and that it should be accompanied by clear and engaging messages that explain the causes and consequences of AMR.

Choosing a more suitable term

The study is the first empirical test of word memorability and risk association for AMR-related terms, and it provides valuable insights for improving public health communication. By choosing a more suitable term for AMR, we can increase the public’s awareness and understanding of this global health threat and encourage them to take action to prevent it.

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