Antibiotic resistance is growing so fast that routine surgery could soon become impossible. But scientists are fighting back in the battle against infection
The first antibiotic that didn’t work for Debbi Forsyth was trimethoprim. In March 2016, Forsyth, a genial primary care counsellor from Morpeth, Northumberland, contracted a urinary tract infection. UTIs are common: more than 150 million people worldwide contract one every year. So when Forsyth saw her GP, they prescribed the usual treatment: a three-day course of antibiotics. When, a few weeks later, she fainted and started passing blood, she saw her GP again, who again prescribed trimethoprim.
Three days after that, Forsyth’s husband Pete came home to find his wife lying on the sofa, shaking, unable to call for help. He rushed her to A&E. She was put on a second antibiotic, gentamicin, and treated for sepsis, a complication of the infection that can be fatal if not treated quickly. The gentamicin didn’t work either. Doctors sent Forsyth’s blood for testing, but such tests can take days: bacteria must be grown in cultures, then tested against multiple antibiotics to find a suitable treatment. Five days after she was admitted to hospital, Forsyth was diagnosed with an infection of multi-drug-resistant E coli, and given ertapenem, one of the so-called “last resort” antibiotics.