CDC Says Pandemic Caused Rise in Superbug Infections

Overprescribed antibiotics and overburdened health-care system to blame
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 13, 2022 12:45 PM CDT
CDC: Superbug Infections Rose in 2020 Due to Pandemic
This illustration made available by the CDC depicts an extremely drug-resistant form of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, one of the leading causes of blood infections and pneumonia in hospitals.   (CDC via AP)

Superbugs got an unfortunate boost during the pandemic. Per Reuters, the bad news comes in a recent CDC report, which says antimicrobial-resistant bacteria killed 15% more people in 2020 compared to 2019. It's a reversal of what was a good trend, as deaths from superbugs had fallen since 2012. Then, the pandemic messed everything up. In all, nearly 30,000 people died from superbugs in 2020, and 40% of them were infected in hospitals. Superbugs have always lurked in hospitals, but COVID's enormous strain on the health care system opened new pathways for them to spread and evolve. One way that happens is through the overuse of antibiotics, which 80% of hospitalized COVID patients received between March and October in 2020.

The Hill notes that the problems began when the first COVID patients arrived at hospitals and health care workers had little idea what they were dealing with. Although useless against viruses, antibiotics are prescribed for pneumonia, which is what doctors thought was present in many early COVID patients. As the pandemic gained steam, doctors threw everything they had at the disease. Antibiotics were also prescribed due to widespread use of ventilators and catheters, invasive devices that increase the risk of infection, "especially when combined with personal protective equipment and lab supply challenges, reduced staff, and longer lengths of stay," the CDC stated.

The CDC report focuses on seven superbugs most common in hospitals. According to the Washington Post, these include an extraordinarily drug-resistant "nightmare bacteria" and the deadly fungus Candida auris, which saw a 60% increase in hospital infections. Doctors have warned for years that the world needs new antibiotics to fight superbugs, but "there is little incentive among drugmakers as antibiotics are not especially profitable and overuse must be discouraged, keeping sales down," Reuters reports. Per the Telegraph, superbugs killed 1.27 million people worldwide in 2019, according to World Health Organization statistics, but the agency says existing vaccines can help. For example, common typhoid and pneumonia vaccines can prevent infections, thus lowering the need for antibiotics in the first place. (More superbug stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.