People building tolerance to prescribed antibiotics can make way for “superbugs” more harmful than COVID-19 in the future.
More than 35,000 people in the United States have died due to antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections in 2019. The cost to treat these antibiotic-resistant infections is estimated to be more than $4.6 billion. Yet, the bigger challenge may be that doctors are sometimes erroneously prescribing antibiotics for COVID-19.
Antibiotic resistance occurs when antibiotic therapies are no longer effective in killing bacterial and fungal infections in the human body. Developing when germs, such as bacteria and fungi, become immune through mutations, antibiotic-resistant infections can be a dangerous phenomenon. Commonly known as “superbugs,” these infections can sometimes be nearly impossible to cure. Unfortunately, antibiotic resistance is not difficult to develop, and consuming antibiotics when not needed makes it even easier for bacteria and fungi to develop immunity and harm individuals.
A study conducted by the University of Michigan showed that antibiotic therapies are not necessary to treat COVID-19 because most patients do not develop bacterial coinfection, which is when a patient’s body is simultaneously infected by multiple pathogens. This is further supported by a research study conducted in Indonesia, which found little evidence to suggest the efficacy of several antibiotics against COVID-19.
This study evaluated the usage of azithromycin, an antibiotic frequently used to fight infections caused by bacteria. It discovered that COVID-19 patients who received the azithromycin treatment were unlikely to have better outcomes compared to those who did not receive it. Researchers thus determined that azithromycin treatment in COVID-19 patients was not associated with a lower mortality, a shorter hospitalization period, a lower ICU transfer or less need for respiratory support, and consequently led to no statistically significant clinical improvement.
Prescribing antibiotics can also worsen viral infections, such as the common cold or COVID-19, by rendering antibiotics ineffective and triggering no response in the body. This is because antibiotics only target living pathogens and viruses like SARS-CoV2, which causes COVID-19, are not living entities. Additionally, when antibiotics are consumed for viral infections, they can cause more severe illnesses, including diarrhea, nausea or rashes, and can also cause patients to become more susceptible to secondary bacterial or fungal infections as their body becomes weak while fighting off COVID-19.
Despite this, COVID-19 has resulted in a spike of antibiotic use. According to a study conducted by Dr. Gonzalez-Zorn, the head of the antimicrobial resistance unit at the Complutense University in Madrid, azithromycin consumption skyrocketed during the peak months — February and March 2020 of the coronavirus pandemic.
The uptick in the usage of antibiotics, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, is a cause for concern. Even now, antibiotics are the most commonly prescribed medicine in the world.
According to a report by the Center Disease Dynamics and Economics and Policy, if the current misguided use of antibiotics continues at this rate, it is estimated that antibiotic resistance will drastically increase. This could in turn lead to the next generation of “superbugs” that may threaten the lives of many more in the future.
The best way to keep ourselves and those around us safe from these superbugs is to consume antibiotics only when they are absolutely necessary and to continue practicing good hygiene.