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Bacteria that cause healthcare-associated bloodstream infections gained increased resistance to last-resort antibiotics during the pandemic, according to a new World Health Organization report released Friday. 

Data reported by 87 countries in 2020 showed that levels of antibiotic resistance were above 50% in bacteria such as Klebsiella pneumoniae and Acinetobacter species.

“These life-threatening infections require treatment with last-resort antibiotics, such as carbapenems,” WHO reported. “However, 8% of bloodstream infections caused by Klebsiella pneumoniae were reported as resistant to carbapenems, increasing the risk of death due to unmanageable infections.”

At-risk patients

In the case of Klebsiella pneumoniae, patients who use invasive devices such as ventilators and catheters, and those on long courses of antibiotics are particularly at risk of infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Other common bacteria are also becoming increasingly resistant to available treatments, the WHO found. This includes more than 20% of Escherichia coli (E. coli) isolates, which are the most common pathogen in urinary tract infections. These were found to be resistant to both first-line drugs (ampicillin and co-trimoxazole) and second-line treatments (fluoroquinolones), the WHO reported.

In addition, bloodstream infections due to resistant E. coli and Salmonella species, for example, increased by at least 15% compared to rates in 2017.

In the United States, widespread use of antibiotics during the pandemic helped to cause a 15% spike in deaths tied to antibiotic-resistant superbugs from 2019 to 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported In July.

IPC shortfalls

Perhaps not surprisingly, healthcare settings with high superbug prevalence are likely not implementing or following infection control measures, another new study has found.

Hospitals with the highest self-reported prevalence of Klebsiella pneumoniae and Pseudomonas aeruginosa reported the least-implemented IPC measures, researchers working in the Netherlands and Austria have found.  

“Also, hospitals with a higher prevalence often reported a lower adherence to [their] own IPC policy,” they concluded in an article published last week in the BMC.

Related articles:

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