Antibiotic resistance could intensify COVID-19 and flu infections

This Scanning Electron Micrograph Sem Depicts A Number Of Highly Magnified Rod Shaped, Motile, Gram Negative Salmonella Infantis Bacteria, Some Of Which Are Attached; Magnification 18875X. Salmonellosis Is An Infection Due To Members Of A Genus Of Bacteria Called Salmonella, Of Which S. Infantis Is A Member. Most Persons Infected With Salmonella Develop Diarrhea, Fever, And Abdominal Cramps 12 To 72 Hours After Infection. The Illness Usually Lasts 4 To 7 Days, And Most Persons Recover Without Treatment. However, In Some Persons The Diarrhea May Be So Severe That The Patient Needs To Be Hospitalized. In These Patients, The Salmonella Infection May Spread From The Intestines To The Blood Stream, And Then To Other Body Sites And Can Cause Death Unless The Person Is Treated Promptly With Antibiotics. The Elderly, Infants, And Those With Impaired Immune Systems Are More Likely To Have A Severe Illness. (Photo By BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — In addition to the coronavirus pandemic and flu season, doctors are concerned about a third variable thrown into the mix that could turn the COVID-19/influenza double threat into a triple one. 

Antibiotic drug resistance is growing across the globe with people of all types unable to fight off bacterial and fungal infections with drugs that might have otherwise worked in the past. 

A team of global experts released a position paper linking the problem with poor home hygiene.   

The report, published in the American Journal of Infection Control, says the biggest pathogen transmission threats come from unwashed hands, contact with dirty surfaces, clothes and foods. And if not properly disinfected, bacteria can also be transmitted through clothing and household linens, toilets and baths as well as floors, walls and furniture. 

The Centers for Disease Control lists over 20 of the world’s most dangerous antibiotic resistant bugs. These germs include salmonella, which resulted in 4,100 hospitalizations in 2017 and acinetobacter–a bacteria that causes pneumonia–and was responsible for 8,500 hospitalizations that same year. But the organization is most concerned about clostridium difficile–a bacteria that causes life-threatening diarrhea and inflammation of the colon. This poses the biggest threat as it impacts close to 224,000 people per year and results in an estimated 12,800 deaths. 

This issue, scientists say, is that should someone contract the coronavirus, influenza or both, the person is more susceptible to bacterial infections. The viruses weaken the body’s immune system making it easier for “complex, hard to treat bacteria to take hold.”

The H1N1 swine flu pandemic is a perfect example. The virus took the lives of close to 300,000 people around the world. However, between 29% and 55% of these cases had antibiotic resistant pneumonia as the secondary cause of death on their death certificate.  

More than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur each year in the United States alone. Combined with the coronavirus pandemic and flu season, this number will likely increase. If drug companies aren’t able to keep pace and develop new drugs to stop this urgent public health issue, it’s estimated this number will increase fivefold by 2050. 

News 8’s medical reporter, Dr. Mary Elizabeth Gillis, D.Ed., is a classically trained medical physiologist and biobehavioral research scientist. She has been a health, medical and science reporter for over 5 years. Her work has been featured in national media outlets. You can follow her on Instagram @reportergillis and Facebook @DrMaryGillis.