In the months since the novel coronavirus emerged in China and began spreading around the globe, reports of bacterial co-infections and widespread antibiotic use in COVID-19 patients has prompted concerns that the unprecedented viral pandemic, on top of the devastation it has already caused, could have the downstream effect of diminishing antibiotic supplies and further fueling rates of antibiotic resistance. Even though COVID-19 is caused by a virus—SARS-CoV-2—and antibiotics should have no effect on it, those concerns aren’t unfounded. Clinicians have frequently had to resort to antibiotics for COVID-19 patients because of clinical uncertainty, the risk of secondary bacterial infections in patients with underlying conditions and lengthy hospitalizations, and most of all, a lack of any other proven treatment. To date, the picture on antibiotic use in in COVID-19 patients is incomplete but worrisome. An early study from Wuhan, China, where the pandemic originated, indicated nearly all hospitalized patients were receiving antibiotics. A recent review of COVID-19 studies published since the pandemic began found that while only 8% of COVID-19 patients had documented bacterial co-infections, 72% had received antibiotic therapy.

 

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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