Fears grow as antibiotic resistance affects routine surgery

3D bacteria

Antibiotic resistance could have fatal consequences for patients undergoing common operations or chemotherapy, according to a new study.

Researchers in the United States looked at what could happen to patients undergoing routine surgery and being treated for cancer with chemotherapy if antibiotic effectiveness fell by 30% - in line with current trends.

Published in the Lancet, the study suggests that antibiotic resistance could result in 6,300 extra deaths each year in the US. The majority of deaths would occur in patients having colorectal surgery, blood cancer chemotherapy and hip replacements.

Scientists estimate that 50% of bacteria that cause infections after surgery are resistant to antibiotics in the US, while 25% of infections treated with antibiotics after chemotherapy treatment are now drug-resistant.

Lead researcher Ramanan Laxminarayan said in a statement: "A lot of common surgical procedures and cancer chemotherapy will be virtually impossible if antibiotic resistance is not tackled urgently."

Official data shows that UK infection rates are falling slightly and there are no major signs of antibiotics failing to control infections after routine surgery.

However, Professor Nigel Brown, President of the Microbiology Society, said the study was relevant to the UK. "Antibiotic resistance is a global problem and it is likely that routine surgery such as hip replacement and elective caesarean sections will become much rarer in the UK, unless steps are taken to prevent its spread."

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