Coronavirus: Unnecessary prescriptions for Covid patients ‘feed antibiotic resistance’

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Covid crisis fuels antibiotic resistance due to ‘unnecessary’ prescriptions given to prevent bacterial infection in UK hospital patients, experts warn

  • Scientists said they were ‘using more antibiotics than we’d like’
  • Study saw 85 percent of Covid hospital patients get antibiotics
  • At the same time, bacterial infection was rare and drugs did not work against Covid
  • Overuse of antibiotics helps bacteria learn to survive and weaken drugs

The coronavirus is fueling antibiotic resistance because virus patients are unnecessarily prescribed the drugs, experts warn.

A study of 48,902 patients admitted to NHS hospitals during the first wave of Covid-19 found that 85 percent were prescribed antibiotics.

However, research found that the vast majority did not need or benefit from antibiotics, as secondary bacterial infections are very rare in Covid patients.

This means that the pandemic could create a ‘perfect storm’ for a wave of superbugs, as overuse of antibiotics can lead to the development of resistant bacteria.

Of the 8,649 Covid-19 patients in the UK who underwent microbiological testing for infections such as sepsis or pneumonia, only 1,107 were diagnosed with bacterial diseases.

In contrast, other viruses such as the flu often cause patients to develop bacterial infections, such as bacterial pneumonia. About one in four patients with severe flu have bacterial co-infections.

The research, published in The Lancet, suggests doctors should reduce the use of antibiotics in patients with Covid-19.

Experts say doctors have unnecessarily given antibiotics to Covid patients because the drugs don’t treat viral illnesses and people rarely get a bacterial infection at the same time (Pictured: A patient being cared for in intensive care in Cambridge, March 2021)

Study author Professor Calum Semple added: ‘Covid is a viral disease. It’s not uncommon for viral illnesses to be complicated by a bacterial infection, but we don’t see that very often.

“We see more antibiotics being used than we would like, and we see the most expensive antibiotics being used that we would like to reserve for the most serious bacterial infections.

‘There are viruses that are quite common and require a bacterium to cause a lot of damage. Some viruses are nasty on their own and you only need them to make you very sick.

“We have to realize that the coronavirus is a nasty little virus and that it alone is enough to make you very sick and kill you. You don’t need to have a secondary bacterial infection on board.’

Antibiotic resistance is a condition that develops in bacteria when they have been exposed to drugs so often that the drugs no longer work against them.

WHAT IS ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE?

Antibiotic resistance is a condition that develops in bacteria when they have been exposed to drugs so often that the drugs no longer work against them.

If people are given antibiotics when they don’t need them, or don’t take them properly, the bacteria can learn to coexist with the medication.

Over time, this teaches the bacteria how to survive the action of the antibiotics, meaning they don’t work as well and infections become more serious and more difficult to treat in the future.

It is already happening especially with gonorrhea, the sexually transmitted disease.

Resistant strains of that insect mean doctors have to use increasingly potent drugs that they wouldn’t normally choose simply because the original drugs don’t work. The process can continue until medics have their “last defense” medication, at which point they can run out of treatments.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has previously warned that if nothing is done, the world will be heading for a ‘post-antibiotic’ era.

It claimed that common infections, such as chlamydia, will become deadly without immediate solutions to the growing crisis.

About 700,000 people die every year as a result of resistant infections, including tuberculosis.

If people are given antibiotics when they don’t need them, or don’t take them properly, the bacteria can learn to coexist with the medication.

Over time, this teaches the bacteria how to survive the action of the antibiotics, meaning they don’t work as well and infections become more serious and more difficult to treat in the future.

It is already happening especially with gonorrhea, the sexually transmitted disease.

Resistant strains of that insect mean doctors have to use increasingly potent drugs they wouldn’t normally choose simply because the original drugs don’t work. The process can continue until medics have their “last defense” medication, at which point they can run out of treatments.

Lead author Dr. Antonia Ho, from the University of Glasgow, said: ‘Our study shows that co-infection is really rare, so the standard is not to prescribe antibiotics unless you have good evidence.

‘You see [Covid] patients in hospital with both lungs white on chest x-rays and they have really high markers of infection…before Covid would prescribe you antibiotics.

‘But the vast majority of patients do not have a bacterial infection. If you have a suspicion, take blood cultures and send them to a lab. It is about smarter use of antibiotics.

“As antimicrobial resistance remains one of the greatest public health challenges of our time, action to combat it is essential to ensure that these life-saving drugs remain an effective treatment for infections for years to come.”

The survey found that during the first wave of the virus, more than a third of Covid-19 patients were prescribed antibiotics before being hospitalized in the UK. And once in the hospital, about 85 percent were given antibiotics.

The overuse of antibiotics is fueling a superbug crisis, as it causes bacteria to mutate and become resistant to the drugs.

GPs have repeatedly been ordered to reduce the number of prescriptions they dispense, as many antibiotics are useless against increasingly resistant germs.

Antibiotics are only effective when used to treat bacterial infections – unlike viruses, including Covid-19.

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