Increasing resistance to standard prophylactic antibiotics poses a serious and growing danger for patients undergoing immunosuppressing cancer chemotherapies, according to a recently released study published in Lancet Infectious Diseases.1

Prophylactic antibiotics are routinely given as part of surgeries and chemotherapy to prevent infections, but the study found that antibiotic-resistant pathogens may cause more than 25% of infections after chemotherapy.

The study examined meta-analyses and reviews of randomized or quasi-randomized controlled trials between 1968 and 2011, focusing on the efficacy of antibiotic prophylaxis in preventing infections and infection-related deaths after blood cancer chemotherapy and the 10 most commonly performed surgical procedures.

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Their findings: as many as 50.9% of the pathogens causing surgical site infections and 26.8% of those causing infections after chemotherapy are resistant to standard prophylactic antibiotics administered in the United States.

“Increasing antibiotic resistance threatens the efficacy of these procedures and could result in adverse clinical outcomes, including increased rates of morbidity, amputation, or death,” the authors wrote.

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They estimated that as little as a 30% reduction in the efficacy of the antibiotics regularly given would account for an additional 120 000 infections and 6367 infection-related deaths per year in the United States. A 70% reduction in efficacy would bring the number of additional infections to 280 000, and cause as many as 15 000 infection-related deaths.

The results led the authors to call for an immediate and concerted response.

“We urgently need national and international strategies to limit the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance and to develop new antibiotics,” they wrote.