Antibiotics are now failing to work in a fifth of patients who suffer an infection following hospital surgery, according to the first major study investigating the crisis.
The global research found that one in eight patients undergoing common procedures such as appendix removal developed an infection while recovering. Some 22 per cent of cases were found to be resistant to the antibiotics which should have protected them.
The study, published by the Lancet, tracked more than 13,000 patients in 66 countries, including those in the UK, who were undergoing gastrointestinal surgery.
Researchers said the findings were “extremely worrying,” with potentially “catastrophic” consequences.
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The overuse of antibiotics has meant many germs have evolved to resist the drugs, with some dangerous strains becoming completely untreatable.
Antibiotics are routinely given before operations to kill off bacteria and protect patients from disease
A colony of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria causing a skin infection – just one of several antibiotic-resistant infectious diseases
The NHS-funded study involving 12,539 patients in 66 countries found a startling number of infections that develop on surgical wounds are resistant to antibiotics.
The researchers, from the universities of Edinburgh, Warwick and Birmingham, found in wealthy countries including the UK 17 per cent of infections – just over one in six – that developed within a month of surgery were resistant to treatment.
In poor countries the problem was even worse, with antibiotic-resistant bacteria found in 36 per cent of infections.
Superbugs are breeding at a rapid rate, with increasing numbers of germs evolving to become untreatable with what were previously effective drugs.
Experts have warned the superbugs crisis could one day mean routine operations become deadly because of the ris