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Global action urgently needed to prevent a post-antibiotic era

20 November 2015 Ruth Bentley

More people will start to die from surgical procedures and cancer treatments unless urgent global action is taken to tackle antimicrobial resistance.

The call follows the publication of a new study in The Lancet that has investigated the potential consequences of increases in antibiotic resistance on the 10 most common surgical procedures and immunosuppressing cancer chemotherapies in the USA that rely on antibiotic prophylaxis.1

The findings estimate that up to half of infections after surgery and over a quarter of infections after chemotherapy in the USA are caused by organisms resistant to standard antibiotics. The study predicts that if antibiotics become 30% less effective in the USA, it could lead to 120 000 more infections in patients undergoing surgery or chemotherapy, and 6300 infection-related deaths each year.

“It really does show how urgent the situation is, how we now need global action if we are not to approach a post-antibiotic era where common infections will be untreatable,” said Dr Liz Tayler (of the World Health Organization’s Antimicrobial Resistance Secretariat) on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Concern continues to grow worldwide. President Obama launched a 5-year plan earlier this year to fight the threat posed by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.2 In the UK, the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, commissioned by Prime Minister David Cameron, is due to present its final report with recommendations for global solutions in spring 2016.3

1. Teillant A et al. Potential burden of antibiotic resistance on surgery and cancer chemotherapy antibiotic prophylaxis in the USA: a literature review and modelling study. Lancet Infect Dis 2015;doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(15)00270-4

2. National action plan for combating antibiotic-resistant bacteria (NAP). Available from: https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/national_action_plan_for_combating_antibotic-resistant_bacteria.pdf


3. Review on Antimicrobial Resistance. Available from: https://amr-review.org/home

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