COVID-19 and secondary bacterial infections

COVID-19 followed by secondary bacterial infections; an often fatal one-two punch

Colin Garner ANTRUK announcements, Coronavirus COVID-19, Learn more

It is becoming increasingly clear that people who are weakened by COVID-19 are susceptible to contracting secondary bacterial infections. These can be acquired in hospital and are often resistant to treatment with antibiotics. Here, we explore the facts and figures published so far.

A study of 191 hospital patients in Wuhan recorded secondary infections in 50% of those who sadly lost their lives, while only one person that survived had such an infection.

Another study describes how most patients, even those without bacterial infections, were given antibiotics as a preventative measure, as illness decreases the body’s natural immune response. It also details previous studies into the outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). These describe patients with highly drug resistant infections with A. baumannii. This is incredibly difficult to treat and is more likely to result in septic shock, an often fatal condition.

And of course, we have seen the effects of secondary infections during viral pandemics before. Studies on the 2009 ‘Swine Flu’ pandemic found hospital pneumonia as a result of secondary bacterial pneumonia in anywhere from 29-55% of the people who lost their lives. After the 2009 influenza pandemic, researchers found that the increased use of antibiotics, which can then reach the external environment through insufficiently treated wastewater, could indeed increase the occurrence of bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

Cause of death

A difficulty arises in determining the cause of death in these cases, too. It is possible for both the virus and for bacterial infections to cause sepsis. Sepsis is an often fatal condition caused by the body’s immune system over-responding to the infection. While data is being gathered on how many patients have both types of infection, it doesn’t tell the full story. The data does not describe the type of infection that caused death. Such data is crucial to understand the level of threat posed by secondary infections. It will also highlight the need for new treatments for this very real threat to our health.

Why aren’t there any new antibiotics?

Awareness of the problem is rising; you can read articles and articles about it. But the issue remains. Investing in the development of new antibiotics is exorbitantly expensive and only very few drugs are found to be safe and effective. And bacteria can develop resistance to new treatments within a year, making it difficult for businesses to recoup the money they have invested.

This is why it so important to make a DONATION to Antibiotic Research UK as we research into finding new ways of treating drug-resistant infections as well as supporting affected patients. 

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