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Study quantifies human consequences of increased antibiotic resistance

A 30% fall in antibiotic effectiveness would lead to more than 6,000 deaths a year in the US, study suggests

Ingrid Torjesen

Friday, 16 October 2015

If growing antibiotic resistance makes antibiotics 30% less effective, it will lead to more than 6,000 deaths a year in the US, a report* in The Lancet Infectious Diseases suggests.

Most of the extra deaths would involve patients having colorectal surgery, blood cancer chemotherapy and hip replacements.

The researchers estimated that up to half of all bacteria that cause infections after surgery are resistant to antibiotics in the US, and one in four of those causing infections after chemotherapy treatment.

They calculated that if antibiotic resistance increased by a third there would be 120,000 more infections and 6,300 more deaths each year in patients having common operations and chemotherapy.

Professor Nigel Brown, president of the Microbiology Society, said: “Although this analysis was carried out in the US, 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.”

Professor Alison Holmes, Professor of Infectious Diseases, Imperial College London, said the study “supports and reinforces the CMO’s message regarding the threat of antibiotic resistance to routine surgical procedures and management of some cancers”.

“The success of these interventions and treatments rely on the use of prophylactic antibiotics to protect against the risk of infection that is associated with them, and this protection is being lost with increasing resistance and with fewer effective antibiotics,” she said. “This direct threat to medical and surgical care means that strategies must include strong clinical leadership and action from those within threatened specialities and not just those with an interest in infectious diseases.”

Professor Laura Piddock, director of Antibiotic Action and Professor of Microbiology, University of Birmingham, said she hoped the study would be a loud “wake-up call” to pharmaceutical companies and encourage them to invest more resources in research in the area.


* Wolf J. Antibiotic resistance threatens the efficacy of prophylaxis. The Lancet, October 2015. DOI: 10.1016/S1473-3099(15)00317-5

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