Doctors should avoid prescribing antibiotics for patients with Covid-19

Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections and they are very good at it, despite the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and tolerance to these strong drugs. Meanwhile COVID-19 is a viral infection, caused by a SARS-CoV-2 virus. So why COVID-19 is frequently treated with antibiotics? Scientists at the University of Edinburgh say that it is usually unnecessary and risky.

A lot of hospitalized COVID-19 patients got antibiotics even without a confirmed need for them. Image credit: Mehr News Agency via Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0)

One of the greatest challenges of modern medicine is antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These superbugs evolved to be resistant to our antibiotics. This is why scientists all over the world are looking for new innovative solutions to treat bacterial infections without antibiotics. Scientists believe that overuse significantly contributed to the spread of antibiotic-resistance. And now unnecessary use of antibiotics is commonly seen in COVID-19 treatment.

Scientists found that 85 % of COVID-19 patients in the UK received one or more antibiotics during their hospital stay. Of course, doctors know what they are doing – these people were also battling suspected bacterial infections. The key word here is "suspected", which makes scientists think that a big part of that antibiotic use in COVID-19 cases was unnecessary. The highest use of antibiotics in COVID-19 treatment was in critical care units, but more than a third of patients had been prescribed antibiotics even before they were hospitalized.

And here's the thing – bacterial infections among people with COVID-19 were uncommon. Some people did contract these infections, usually more than 48 hours after admission. Furthermore, they noticed that COVID-19 patients were getting broad-spectrum antibiotics, which is against the recommendations that antibiotic use should be rather conservative and safe. This is partially because hospitals were extremely busy and decisions had to be made quickly. In some cases that meant that using antibiotics before bacterial infections were confirmed was some kind of a precaution. Bacterial infections are actually uncommon complications of Covid-19. 

Dr Clark Russell, one of the authors of the study, said: "This work identifies which bacteria tend to cause these infections when they do occur, helping clinicians to make a more informed choice about the best antibiotics to give people when needed. Our findings add granularity to our understanding of how antimicrobials have been used in the treatment of patients with COVID-19, and how antimicrobial usage could be optimised".

In the future we will need to seriously cut down on our use of antibiotics. Bacterial infections that were quickly dealt with using antibiotics are becoming more dangerous now. If we want to keep the effectiveness of these drugs for cases when they are actually needed, we need to limit their use.


Source: University of Edinburgh