COVID-19 pandemic may intensify resistance to antibiotics: Here's what can be done to cope with it
As there is no specific treatment for COVID-19, antibiotics are being used inappropriately to treat symptoms in people confirmed or suspected with COVID-19, increasing the chance of them developing resistant to the antimicrobial treatments
Over eight million cases of coronavirus have been confirmed globally so far. As there is no specific treatment for the infection, various drugs are being used to treat the symptoms of COVID-19 patients. Drugs like hydroxychloroquine (anti-malarial drug), remdesivir (Ebola drug), favipiravir (antiviral drug) and many others are in human trials to study their effectiveness against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Antibacterial drugs are also being given to these patients.
According to the World Health Organisation, in a study including 2,010 patients with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19, it was seen that 72 percent of these patients received antibacterial therapy, even though only 8 percent of these cases were reported with bacterial or fungal coinfection. Similarly, COVID-19 patients presenting with fever and respiratory conditions are being treated for bacterial upper respiratory infections.
This is an alarming situation as the world is already dealing with antimicrobial resistance which has exacerbated during this pandemic.
What is antimicrobial resistance?
Antimicrobial resistance is the term used to determine the condition when the microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites evolve in such ways that the medications previously used against them become ineffective. When these microorganisms become resistant to most antibiotics, they are called superbugs.
How has antimicrobial resistance worsened during COVID-19?
Antibiotics are being used inappropriately during this pandemic as the people with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 are being given antimicrobials to treat their symptoms for about 8 to 12 days. Moreover, the hospitalised critical patients of COVID-19 require long-term antibiotics as they are prone to nosocomial (originating at the hospital) bacterial infections during their hospital stay.
If these people get resistant to the antibiotic treatments, they would be at a higher risk of developing secondary bacterial infections during this pandemic. These COVID-19 patients may also come in contact with others during their treatment, including the healthcare workers.
What can be done to cope with the situation of antimicrobial resistance in COVID-19 patients?
The WHO has discouraged the use of antibiotics as therapy or prophylaxis for patients with mild COVID-19 symptoms, or the patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 illness but with moderate symptoms, unless they present with any bacterial infection.
Experts need to find a way to identify COVID-19 related coinfections and superinfections that may require antimicrobial treatment.
Proper monitoring of the COVID-19 patients receiving antibiotic treatment in the intensive care units needs to be done, followed by the reporting of patients showing antibiotic resistance patterns. This would help in establishing a guide for the proper use of antibiotics in COVID-19 patients.
For more information, read our article on COVID-19 treatment: Scientists are trying out these existing drugs to find a cure.
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