WHO poster explaining the cause of COVID-19 deaths

COVID-19: will secondary infections become the primary cause of death?

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

Secondary bacterial infections are often the primary cause of COVID-19 deaths. Research shows that opportunistic bacterial infections caused nearly half of the deaths of people with COVID-19 and a bacterial infection in Wuhan. Now, more than ever, we need to invest in developing new antibiotics.

We have seen this before: in the 2009  H1N1 influenza pandemic (swine flu); up to 55% of deaths were caused by secondary bacterial pneumonia. Antibiotic resistance – and proper stewardship of existing antibiotics – is of vital importance during outbreaks of infectious diseases, and indeed for many medical procedures across the board.

In Wuhan, China as the table below shows, secondary bacterial infection was common and all those except one person died despite the fact that all patients received antibiotics.




Zhou et al, Lancet, March 2020

What’s being done?

Despite this well-documented global health catastrophe, World Leaders are doing next to nothing to ensure that antibiotics are used properly or to invest in the development of new ones. Due to the speed at which bacteria multiply, it is possible for resistance to arise and spread very quickly. This leads to the existence of ‘multidrug-resistant’ strains, some of which cannot be treated at all using medicines available today.

Not only do people with these resistant strains of infection face one day discovering that there is no treatment available, people who currently do not have any such infection are put at risk every time they enter a hospital. More than that, though, genes related to resistance in bacteria are being discovered everywhere in the environment, even the ice in the high arctic, and we still are not working hard enough to create new drugs to treat this threat that we now know if present and growing with each day that passes. Please support Antibiotic Research UK, and help us to keep not just future generations but indeed our own lives safe.

Key message: antibiotics do not treat viruses such as COVID-19, but they are absolutely crucial for treating bacterial infections. Such infections frequently arise in hospitals, particularly due to the use of ventilators. They threaten the lives of people with compromised immune systems through illness. We must stop the spread of COVID-19 and start to take the catastrophic threat of antibiotic resistance seriously.