E coli causes urinary tract infections
Antibiotic-resistant 'superbugs' are spreading into the community, experts have warned.
Doctors are now seeing urinary tract infections which cannot be treated with the standard medications because they are caused by drug-resistant strains of the E-coli bacteria, a major cause of UTIs.
The problem had previously only been seen in hospitals.
It means that GPs will have fewer drugs with which to tackle extremely common infections such as cystitis, which can cause a burning sensation or blood in the urine.
The problem is caused by strains of the E-coli bacteria that contain enzymes which destroy the antibiotics. These strains have been seen in hospitals, but are only now being identified in the community.
Doctors can still use drugs from one family of antibiotics, called Nitrofuranatonin, but some patients, such as pregnant women and people with kidney problems, will not be able to take them.
At the moment, patients usually only need hospital treatment for UTIs if they have complications, such as blood poisoning, but if drug resistance grows, patients may have to be hospitalised in order to be given antibiotics intravenously.
Urinary tract infections account for a fifth of antibiotic prescriptions by GPs.
The drug-resistant infections have so far been reported in the West Midlands and the south-east of England.
Experts in the areas are looking to see if there is any connection between the cases.
Dr David Livermore, director of the antibiotic resistance monitoring reference laboratory at the Health Protection Agency told BBC News Online: "Mild urinary tract infections are very, very common.
"But these very resistant strains of bacteria are still a very rare phenomenon.
However, he added: "The development of these strains means that it will be harder to treat urinary tract infections in the community.
"Dr Livermore said: "Our advice to GPs is that they send in urine samples to laboratories so experts can check to see if the drug-resistant bacteria are present."
Doctors have also warned that an antibiotic used to treat gonorrhoea is failing in around 10% of cases, because they were carrying resistant bacteria.
There have also been reports of cases of the superbug MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) in healthy people. The infection had previously been confined to patients in hospitals and nursing homes.