Now, with the shortage of ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) necessitating their sharing and/or reusage, the risk of contracting an infection from a drug-resistant microbe has significantly increased.
As medical containment strategies, and even viral behaviour go, the novel coronavirus has proven to be quite a challenge for the scientific community. A few things, however, have been well established since the COVID-19 outbreak was first reported in Wuhan past December. For one, the virus leads to higher mortality rates in those with underlying co-morbidities. For another, it often leads to development of secondary bacterial chest infections—indeed, a recent Lancet study noted that 15% of the 247 hospitalised COVID-19 patients in Wuhan, and as many as 50% of those who died, acquired bacterial infections.
This, combined with the fact that the virus primarily manifests as a pulmonary disease with pneumonia-like symptoms, has meant that medical practitioners are becoming increasingly—and dangerously—dependent on antibiotics to manage COVID-19 symptoms, even though these do not directly affect the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for the disease. Now, there are growing concerns that unrestrained usage of antibiotics might fuel the development of drug-resistant bacteria.
In the US, as per a report in Science, the increase in antibiotic demand and prescription has raised such concern that the Department of Defense is assembling a group of medical centres to study secondary bacterial and fungal infections in COVID-19 patients, and the antibiotics being used to treat these. Already, hospitals, especially intensive care units, are hotbeds of antimicrobial resistance. Now, with the shortage of ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) necessitating their sharing and/or reusage, the risk of contracting an infection from a drug-resistant microbe has significantly increased.
This is an even greater concern for India, which, according to a Johns Hopkins-CDDEP study published last year, had the highest instance of antibiotic resistance among the 41 countries studied. Another study lead by CDDEP found resistance to the class of antibiotics used against bacterium K penumoniae, a leading cause of pneumonia and lung infection, to be 56% among Indians. It is no one’s case that antibiotics not be used to manage the fallout of a raging pandemic. However, efforts must be focused on decreasing the risk of in situ contraction of infections in hospitals. And, to that end, ensuring sufficient supply of PPE and crucial medical equipment must be a top priority.