Widespread use of antibiotics during the COVID-19 pandemic allowed deadly bacteria to thrive and change, causing a 15% spike in deaths tied to antibiotic-resistant superbugs from 2019 to 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday.
“The COVID-19 pandemic pushed back years of progress made combating antimicrobial resistance in the United States,” the health agency said in a statement.
An analysis of a special report showed that more than 29,400 people in the United States died from such infections in 2020, and nearly 40% were infected during a hospital stay. Among people hospitalized with COVID-19, fully 80% received an antibiotic between March and April of 2020, when little was known about the deadly SARS-CoV-2 virus and how to treat infected patients, CDC investigators noted.
“Delayed and unavailable data” allowed resistant infections to spread “undetected and untreated,” they reported.
Health authorities have campaigned to stem overuse and unnecessary use of antibiotic drugs for years. In nursing homes, for example, antibiotics are routinely prescribed to treat signs of urinary tract infections that may not require treatment, researchers have reported. With increased exposure to antibiotics, bacteria more quickly evolve to resist the drugs.
But there are also recent signs that the situation still could be brought under control. U.S. nursing facilities, for example, have made “substantial” progress in taking up the core elements of antibiotic stewardship proposed by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, an analysis of IPC surveys published in 2021 found.
What’s more, studies have shown that buy-in to stewardship programs are effective. One such long-term care program slashed antibiotic use across hundreds of facilities, according to a study published in March. And a yearlong, national stewardship program in ambulatory care practices was tied to fewer total antibiotic prescriptions and antibiotic prescriptions for acute respiratory infection visits, a study published July 6 has found.