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Background Antibiotic usage, contact with high transmission healthcare settings as well as changes in immune system function all vary by a patient’s age and sex. Yet, most analyses of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) ignore demographic indicators and provide only country-level resistance prevalence values. This study aimed to address this knowledge gap by quantifying how resistance prevalence and incidence of bloodstream infection (BSI) varied by age and sex across bacteria and antibiotics in Europe. Methods and findings We used patient-level data collected as part of routine surveillance between 2015 and 2019 on BSIs in 29 European countries from the European Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance Network (EARS-Net). A total of 6,862,577 susceptibility results from isolates with age, sex, and spatial information from 944,520 individuals were used to characterise resistance prevalence patterns for 38 different bacterial species and antibiotic combinations, and 47% of these susceptibility results were from females, with a similar age distribution in both sexes (mean of 66 years old). A total of 349,448 isolates from 2019 with age and sex metadata were used to calculate incidence. We fit Bayesian multilevel regression models by country, laboratory code, sex, age, and year of sample to quantify resistant prevalence and provide estimates of country-, bacteria-, and drug-family effect variation. We explore our results in greater depths for 2 of the most clinically important bacteria–antibiotic combinations (aminopenicillin resistance in Escherichia coli and methicillin resistance in Staphylococcus aureus) and present a simplifying indicative index of the difference in predicted resistance between old (aged 100) and young (aged 1). At the European level, we find distinct patterns in resistance prevalence by age. Trends often vary more within an antibiotic family, such as fluroquinolones, than within a bacterial species, such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Clear resistance increases by age for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) contrast with a peak in resistance to several antibiotics at approximately 30 years of age for P. aeruginosa. For most bacterial species, there was a u-shaped pattern of infection incidence with age, which was higher in males. An important exception was E. coli, for which there was an elevated incidence in females between the ages of 15 and 40. At the country-level, subnational differences account for a large amount of resistance variation (approximately 38%), and there are a range of functional forms for the associations between age and resistance prevalence. For MRSA, age trends were mostly positive, with 72% (n = 21) of countries seeing an increased resistance between males aged 1 and 100 years and a greater change in resistance in males. This compares to age trends for aminopenicillin resistance in E. coli which were mostly negative (males: 93% (n = 27) of countries see decreased resistance between those aged 1 and 100 years) with a smaller change in resistance in females. A change in resistance prevalence between those aged 1 and 100 years ranged up to 0.51 (median, 95% quantile of model simulated prevalence using posterior parameter ranges 0.48, 0.55 in males) for MRSA in one country but varied between 0.16 (95% quantile 0.12, 0.21 in females) to −0.27 (95% quantile −0.4, −0.15 in males) across individual countries for aminopenicillin resistance in E. coli. Limitations include potential bias due to the nature of routine surveillance and dependency of results on model structure. Conclusions In this study, we found that the prevalence of resistance in BSIs in Europe varies substantially by bacteria and antibiotic over the age and sex of the patient shedding new light on gaps in our understanding of AMR epidemiology. Future work is needed to determine the drivers of these associations in order to more effectively target transmission and antibiotic stewardship interventions.

Original publication




Journal article


PLOS Medicine


Public Library of Science (PLoS)

Publication Date





e1004301 - e1004301