Antibiotics for Covid risks drug-resistant superbugs, study says

Researchers say 85 per cent of hospital patients were prescribed one or more antibiotics

Researchers say doctors may have relied too heavily on antibiotics. Getty
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Doctors prescribing antibiotics to coronavirus patients could be helping to fuel the growth of medicine-resistant bugs, a team of scientists said on Wednesday.

Researchers say that during the pandemic, antibiotics have been given to Covid-19 patients in UK hospitals at a very high rate, and this could have unintended consequences.

In total, 85 per cent of Covid patients were prescribed one or more antibiotics during their hospital stays, with the highest level of use in critical care, the University of Glasgow-led team found.

And 37 per cent of patients were prescribed antibiotics before admission.

But the overprescription of antibiotics, particularly broad-spectrum, is of significant concern as this could affect anti-microbial resistance globally, according to the report published in The Lancet Microbe.

The importance of safely reducing and controlling the prescription of antibiotics for Covid cases should not be underestimated, said the team, whose members were from the universities of Edinburgh and Liverpool, as well as Imperial College London.

“Prioritising and incorporating existing antimicrobial stewardship principles into care plans could help to prevent a rise of drug-resistant infections becoming a longer-term sequel of the pandemic,” said Dr Clark Russell, of the University of Edinburgh.

Dr Russell said the study only looked at the first wave of the pandemic in the UK and that more work was needed to understand the wider effects.

Since antimicrobial resistance remains one of the biggest public health challenges of our time, measures to combat it are essential

Another member of the team, Dr Antonia Ho from the University of Glasgow, said doctors should stop relying on antibiotics.

“Given the unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic, particularly during its early stages when admitted patients were very sick, effective treatments were limited and the role of possible co-infections unknown, so it is unsurprising that doctors would prescribe antimicrobials,” Dr Ho said.

“However, we now know that bacterial co-infection is uncommon in patients with community-acquired Covid-19.

"Since antimicrobial resistance remains one of the biggest public health challenges of our time, measures to combat it are essential.”

Anti-microbial use was highest during March and April 2020 but fell during May, so further assessment of any changes to patterns of prescribing is essential, the report said.