In the beginning of the pandemic, despite individuals presenting with the classic symptoms of COVID-19, many doctors used broad-spectrum antibiotics as a treatment even though they knew that they aren’t effective at treating viruses. Part of the reason they did this is many were desperate to provide some form of treatment. They also were concerned about the patients developing secondary bacterial infections, which was true for some patients on ventilators.
However, within a short period of time, the doctors recognized their mistake. Several of the initial reports regarding the concern of secondary infections were exaggerated. This led to less prescribing of antibiotics as treatment for COVID-19 as time has worn on. The concern with prescribing antibiotics when they aren’t needed is the creation of bacteria that are resistant to the very medications that are supposed to treat them.
Antimicrobial resistance is a slow-going global health crisis that slays around 700,000 people throughout the world every year. According to the United Nations (UN), if we don’t change our current practices when it comes prescribing antibiotics, antimicrobial resistance could kill close to 10 million people by 2050. Doctors, researchers and public health experts warn that the governmental inaction that cultivated the rapid, worldwide spread of COVID-19 may induce an even deadlier epidemic of drug-resistant infections. A UN report released last year stated that the ensuing health crisis could spur an economic downturn to rival the global financial meltdown of 2008.
Without antibiotics, routine surgical procedures become incredibly dangerous. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as creating new antibiotics to solve the problem. It takes years to develop an effective one and the cost to do that is astronomically high. This has led to numerous pharmaceutical companies going out of business or giving up the field of antibiotic development. In addition, the bacteria are mutating faster than we can create antibiotics.
In order to combat this problem, experts are calling for government intervention. This will take a great deal of effort because a recently published report from the US Government Accountability Office showed that the federal response to antimicrobial resistance was haphazard due to a lack of data about drug-resistant infections. The report also suggested providing financial incentives to antibiotic makers and companies that develop diagnostic tests that would be able to quickly identify the type of infection a person has, which would allow doctors to prescribe the right drug sooner.
In addition to examining the use of antibiotics, scientists are looking at some of the first studies published on COVID-19. Just today, two studies led by a Harvard professor that were published in The New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet were retracted. This was a result of the studies being based off of a huge international database of patient medical records, Surgisphere, which alleges to have patient information shared by 1,200 hospitals and health facilities on six continents. Most experts had never heard of the company prior to these studies. Upon further examination of the list data, the authors couldn’t verify it, so they retracted their findings. One study claimed that antimalarial drugs were dangerous to patients. The other found that some blood pressure drugs didn’t raise the risk of contracting COVID-19 and could potentially be protective.
This has led to some concerns about the state of scientific research as the pandemic spreads. There have been thousands of papers rushed to online sites and journals with little or no peer review. For critics, they fear that long-held standards are disappearing as journals face pressure to rapidly check and circulate new scientific reports. With the retraction of the two studies, there’ll probably be a new focus on the effectiveness of antimalarial drugs. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO), released a statement that they would resume trials of the medications.