Antibiotic resistance and fungal resistance rose dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic and resulted in 29,400 deaths in the first year. Approximately 40 percent of those cases were caused by hospital-acquired infections, and the rest occurred in nursing homes and other healthcare facilities.
According to the CDC, the surge undid much of the progress made over the past decade in containing the superbugs, according to a report released on July 12 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has always been a public health concern in the U.S., and it remains so, said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, in a statement accompanying the report. This setback can and should only be temporary, she said.
By 2020, bacterial and fungal infections resistant to antibiotics will rise by 15 percent
According to federal health officials, the number of people who died from superbugs – bacterial or fungal infections that are resistant to antibiotics – increased by 15% from 2019 to 2020, during the first year of the pandemic. since many public health labs were overwhelmed during the pandemic, the actual number of deaths may be even higher; many of the most dangerous pathogens have no data, according to the report.
The report outlined the rise of many dangerous superbugs, including a 78% rise in carbapenem-resistant infections caused by the bacterium Acinetobacter. this kind of bacteria is one of the key forces driving antibiotic resistance around the world, as has been made clear in an earlier interview with Maria Valeria Fabre, MD, an infectious disease expert and assistant professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
“The majority of these infections are caused by exposure to healthcare. Dr. Fabre points out that ‘carbapenem-resistance’ is a red flag in patients who require respiratory support in the hospital. The carbapenem class of antibiotic is a highly effective broad-spectrum antibiotic, she noted: These are usually reserved for the most resistant infections, so we’re talking about an infection that is resistant to this big gun antibiotic”. Patients with this kind of infection have a very high risk of death, Fabre said.
The agency also reported an increase in antifungal resistance, with a 60% rise in cases involving Candida Auris. According to Fabre, this fungus causes invasive and serious infections, such as bloodstream infections. candida Auris is often found in healthcare settings, such as long-term care facilities. Elderly people are especially vulnerable to the infection, she said.
Recently, these pathogens have been on the radar of the CDC: A CDC report released ahead of the upcoming pandemic named 18 germs considered antibiotic-resistant threats, including Candida auris and carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter.
Drug-resistant infections are on the rise, but why?
AMR occurs when bacteria, fungi, and parasites change over time so that they no longer respond to the drugs designed to eliminate them. World Health Organization (WHO) reports that as antibiotics and antimicrobial medicines become less effective, more infections and deaths occur.
Though this naturally occurs over time, poor infection and disease prevention in healthcare facilities and the misuse and overuse of antibiotics can accelerate the process. The staff shortages and overflowing hospitals that occurred during COVID-19 always created some very tough situations, like reassigning infection control specialists to direct patient care — rather than ensuring that the health facility followed the appropriate guidelines for antibiotic use, for example, hand hygiene, or other safety measures, according to the report.
Other factors that may have contributed to the rise of pathogens and hospital-acquired infections include:
The number of sicker patients at the hospital increased during the pandemic, and they required more frequent catheterizations and longer ventilations. Hospitals also experienced shortages of personal protective equipment, lab supplies, and staff.
It is common to treat COVID-19 with antibiotics, although antibiotics do not work against viruses like the one that causes it. Almost 80 percent of COVID-19 patients who were hospitalized from March to October 2020 received an antibiotic.
With so many COVID patients who were hospitalized and so many on ventilators, it’s not surprising to see drug resistance rise, says Amesh Adalja MD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore.
The AMR is projected to kill 10 million people worldwide by 2050
An analysis published in The Lancet earlier this year estimated that AMR caused 1,27 million deaths around the globe in 2019 and played a role in 4,95 million deaths. In the absence of action to combat the threat, antimicrobial resistance could lead to 10 million deaths annually by 2050, according to a WHO report.
The United States had made progress in slowing antimicrobial-resistant infections prior to the pandemic. During the period between 2012 and 2017, AMR deaths declined by 18 percent overall and by 30 percent in hospitals, and these reductions continued until COVID-19 struck, according to the agency.
As Dr. Adalja points out, bacteria’s resistance to drugs is a pressing challenge facing society. “We should tackle the challenge of antimicrobial resistance with new drugs, vaccines, and diagnostics, coupled with more judicious use of antibiotics,” he says.
In a 44-page statement accompanying the report, the CDC described tactics for accomplishing this goal, including leveraging the National Wastewater Surveillance System (NWSS) introduced in September 2020 in response to COVID-19. In order to combat AMR, the NWSS analyzes wastewater to detect antimicrobial resistance and alerts specialists to emerging threats.
What You Can Do to Help Reduce the Spread of Antibiotic-Resistant Bugs and Minimize Your Risk of Infection
Even though antibiotic resistance is a global and national concern, there are steps you can take to combat it, explains Cedars-Sinai’s healthcare organization.
The first step to preventing an infection is to reduce your own risk.
- By getting vaccinated, you may prevent catching an infection in the first place.
- Always keep your hands clean, whether you are at home, at work, or in a healthcare setting.
- Preparing food safely should be followed.
- Use safe sex practices if you’re sexually active.
Antibiotics used correctly can also reduce the spread of superbugs.
- Do not take antibiotics for a virus.
- Take an antibiotic exactly as prescribed, do not skip doses, and complete the full course of treatment even if you feel better.
- Don’t take an antibiotic that someone else has prescribed.