The spread of antibiotic resistance could have disastrous consequences for patients undergoing surgery or chemotherapy, according to an overseas study released last week.
In the United States, up to half of infections after surgery and over a quarter of those after chemotherapy are caused by organisms resistant to standard antibiotics, researchers found.
A 30 per cent drop in the efficacy of preventive antibiotics given to patients undergoing such procedures could lead to 120,000 infections and 6,300 infection-related deaths a year in the US alone, they said.
"This is the first study to estimate the impact of antibiotic resistance on broader medical care in the United States," said Dr Ramanan Laxminarayan, director of the Centre for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy in Washington.
"Many common surgical procedures and cancer chemotherapy will be impossible if antibiotic resistance is not tackled urgently."
Antibiotics are routinely given as a precautionary measure to patients undergoing surgery or cancer treatment, to prevent infection.
Yet, bacterial resistance to commonly prescribed antibiotics is increasing at an alarming pace.
The study, published in medical journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases, is the first to examine how far rising resistance has affected preventive antibiotics.
A team led by Dr Laxminarayan reviewed data from clinical trials conducted between 1968 and 2011.
They found that 39 per cent of infections after Caesarean sections, 50 to 90 per cent of infections after rectal prostate biopsies and just over a quarter of infections after blood cancer chemotherapy were caused by resistant organisms.
In a comment also carried by The Lancet, Dr Joshua Wolf of the St Jude Children's Research Hospital said the study "describes a future in which patients who need surgery or chemotherapy can no longer be protected from life-threatening infections by antibiotic" treatment.
The World Health Organisation has warned that countries are falling behind in the war against superbugs, which kill hundreds of thousands a year.