Burden of Antimicrobial Resistance: Compared to What?

Epidemiol Rev. 2022 Jan 14;43(1):53-64. doi: 10.1093/epirev/mxab001.


The increased focus on the public health burden of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) raises conceptual challenges, such as determining how much harm multidrug-resistant organisms do compared to what, or how to establish the burden. Here, we present a counterfactual framework and provide guidance to harmonize methodologies and optimize study quality. In AMR-burden studies, 2 counterfactual approaches have been applied: the harm of drug-resistant infections relative to the harm of the same drug-susceptible infections (the susceptible-infection counterfactual); and the total harm of drug-resistant infections relative to a situation where such infections were prevented (the no-infection counterfactual). We propose to use an intervention-based causal approach to determine the most appropriate counterfactual. We show that intervention scenarios, species of interest, and types of infections influence the choice of counterfactual. We recommend using purpose-designed cohort studies to apply this counterfactual framework, whereby the selection of cohorts (patients with drug-resistant, drug-susceptible infections, and those with no infection) should be based on matching on time to infection through exposure density sampling to avoid biased estimates. Application of survival methods is preferred, considering competing events. We conclude by advocating estimation of the burden of AMR by using the no-infection and susceptible-infection counterfactuals. The resulting numbers will provide policy-relevant information about the upper and lower bound of future interventions designed to control AMR. The counterfactuals should be applied in cohort studies, whereby selection of the unexposed cohorts should be based on exposure density sampling, applying methods avoiding time-dependent bias and confounding.

Keywords: causal inference; causality, global burden of disease; drug resistance; methods; microbial; research design.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents* / pharmacology
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents* / therapeutic use
  • Causality
  • Cohort Studies
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial*
  • Humans
  • Public Health


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents