Scientists warn that antibiotics should not be given to COVID patients, except in rare circumstances where a secondary bacterial infection is present.
The warning comes after a study led by the University of Glasgow found antibiotic use among hospitalized Covid-19 patients during the first wave in the UK was high, despite rarely a confirmed bacterial infection.
“Covid-19 is a viral infection. Antibiotics are ineffective against viral infections, unless a bacterial co-infection is present,” lead author Dr Antonia Ho, MRC- from the University of Glasgow’s Center for Virus Research, tells HuffPost UK.
Not only do antibiotics not work to treat viruses like COVID, but using them unnecessarily can cause side effects to patients in the future and, perhaps more worryingly, increase antibiotic resistance.
It is estimated that there are at least 5,000 deaths in England each year because antibiotics no longer work for some infections – and this figure is set to rise.
What did the study find?
Overall, 85% of COVID-19 patients received one or more antibiotics during their hospital admission in the first wave, with the most commonly used in critical care, while 37% of patients were prescribed antibiotics prior to admission was.
There was high use of broad-spectrum antibiotics – which were active against a wide range of bacteria. But confirmed bacterial infections – which actually require antibiotics – were uncommon among people with COVID-19, especially when first hospitalized, the study found.
Most of the bacteria identified represent secondary infections that began more than 48 hours after hospital admission.
So should antibiotics be ruled out altogether?
not enough. Although co-infection was rarely observed during the first wave of the pandemic, there remains a need to monitor hospitalized patients in light of the increased use of steroids and other COVID-19 treatments, which may increase the likelihood of bacterial infection. is, the researchers said.
However, he stressed that the excessive prescription of antibiotics, particularly broad-spectrum antibiotics, in the majority of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 has raised “significant concerns” about the impact on antibiotic resistance globally.
“This study demonstrates that excessive antibiotic use may not be necessary in hospitalized COVID-19 patients, in fact it may contribute to antimicrobial resistance,” says Dr. Ho. “While some COVID-19 patients will require antibiotics, mostly for secondary infections that develop after hospital admission, our data suggests that not all COVID-19 patients should be prescribed antibiotics.”
It is “astonishing” that doctors offered antibiotics to patients during the first wave, he said, adding that “given the unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic, especially during its early stages when admitted patients were very ill, effective treatment was limited.” were, and the role of possible co-infection unknown”. However, “antimicrobial resistance remains one of the greatest public health challenges of our time”.
Anyone who is offered antibiotics to treat symptoms of COVID-19 should ask their healthcare professional if they are concerned about bacterial co-infection, says Dr. Ho. If the answer is no, it’s worth pushing back.
Professor Callum Semple, co-lead author of the study, says: “We have only had safe surgery and medical cures for many life-threatening conditions since antibiotics were discovered and most still work.
“The overuse of antibiotics needs to be avoided to prevent the emergence of resistance. When the current threat from COVID-19 subsides, the problem of antimicrobial resistance will remain a threat.”
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