Antibiotic resistance has increased in the past few decades leading to a higher risk of hospital infections such as MRSA.
A study published in the Environmental Science and Technology journal, found that 78 per cent of genes from four classes of antibiotics demonstrated resistance levels higher than those in 1940.
Professor David Graham from the School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences at Newcastle University led the study which was carried out using data from five separate sites in the Netherlands.
He said that despite "increasingly stringent controls on our use of antibiotics" the increase in background levels of antibiotic resistant genes, "increases the chances of a resistant gene in a harmless bacteria being passed onto a disease-causing pathogen, such as a MRSA, with obvious consequences".
Professor Graham called for further studies into antibiotic resistance to ascertain the extent of the risk posed by harmful bacteria which can no longer be effectively treated with antibiotics.
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