The coronavirus pandemic could lead to a “sharp rise” in antimicrobial resistance due to the widespread use of antibiotics as treatments, microbiologists from Queen's University Belfast have warned.
In a new paper, the scientists highlight how nearly all severe COVID-19 patients are being treated with broad-spectrum antibiotics, which not only may have limited results, but are also associated with higher mortality.
They also warn that potentially fatal bacterial respiratory infections may arise subsequently or coincidentally from hospital stays or from therapies given to treat coronavirus patients.
This comes after the World Health Organization (WHO) recently revealed that a record number of countries are recording "disturbing" rates of antimicrobial resistance.
“Our research suggests that bacterial infection alongside the virus is likely to make the COVID-19 worse, although we don’t yet know the true extent,” said Dr Connor Bamford, virologist at the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine at Queen’s University.
“The rise of antimicrobial resistance in bacteria means this situation is harder to treat. It is clear that we will need new drugs that take into consideration both the virus and the bacteria.”
The paper explains how clinical data, as well as postmortem analysis of tissues from COVID-19 patients, already indicate the presence of bacterial co-infections in COVID-19 patients.
These may worsen the clinical outcome and the severity of COVID-19 in a patient, increasing the risk of death.
The study also highlights how SARS-CoV-2 and bacteria in the lungs may affect each other’s ability to cause damage, and with the immune response to the virus being different when bacteria are present, the clinical outcome and the severity of COVID-19 in a patient could worsen.
Moreover, it outlines how gut microbiota could also be disrupted in severe COVID-19 patients, which may affect disease outcomes, including predisposition to secondary bacterial infections of the lung.
“It is critical that co-infections should not be underestimated and instead be part of the plan to limit the global burden of morbidity and mortality during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond,” said professor José Bengoechea, director of the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine.
“We hope that our research exploring the role of bacterial and SARS-CoV-2 co-infections will result in the improved health of COVID-19 patients and possibly even save lives.”
Author: Chris Seekings
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