Scientists calling ‘superbugs’ an existential threat amid COVID-19 pandemic

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Health experts are concerned about the simultaneous threat of both the coronavirus and existing antibiotic-resistant bacteria called “superbugs”. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists dozens of these germs and some have been around for decades. However, scientists have yet to find a treatment and the consequences, they say, can be lethal. 

“I’m very concerned about the number of people who are going to lose their lives–not because of the coronavirus–but because of these deadly, super-infections,” Julie Gerberding, former director of the CDC Division of Healthcare Quality and Promotion, said in an interview with CNBC

The race to find a COVID-19 vaccine has dominated biopharmaceutical development in 2020. As a result, investments in antibiotic advancements have taken a back seat. This is troubling, scientists say, as 2.8 million people in the United States contract some type of antibiotic-resistant pathogen each year with an annual death rate of more than 35,000, according to the CDC

These numbers pose a threat for those infected with COVID-19. Because of their compromised immune system, they’re more susceptible to antibiotic-resistance pathogens.

In a report published in Clinical Microbiology and Infection, authors gathered evidence from 24 studies and found 14.3% of coronavirus patients contracted a secondary bacterial infection. 

“Bacterial co-pathogens are commonly identified in viral respiratory tract infections…and are an important cause of morbidity and mortality necessitating timely diagnosis and antibacterial therapy,” authors write in the paper. 

In the same interview with CNBC, Gerberding estimates 1 in 7 hospitalized with the coronavirus will develop a secondary bacterial infection.

As of Wednesday, there have been more than 5,810,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. and more than 179,300 deaths.

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.


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