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Antibiotic-resistant infections are a threat to hospitals struggling with COVID-19

Posted at 2:15 PM, Dec 02, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is teaching us important lessons about the next potential infectious disease threat.

“That includes things like dealing with the problems that are before us now, things like antibiotic resistance that kills too many Americans every day and preparing for things we don't know about by having good surveillance programs and public health infrastructure,” said Dr. Helen Boucher, Infectious Diseases Chief at Tufts Medical Center.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says antibiotic-resistant infections impact nearly 3 million people a year and are responsible for 35,000 deaths. That's less than COVID-19, but there is new evidence the two are colliding.

A new CDC report points to an outbreak of a multiple drug-resistant bacteria at a New Jersey hospital already dealing with a surge of COVID-19 patients. From February through July, there were 34 of the bacteria cases. Half were in COVID-19 patients and 10 of them died.

At the time, the hospital wasn't able to use the same standard of infection control practices due to capacity, shortages in PPE, medical equipment and staff.

“Certainly, having health care workers healthy so they can take care of patients is very important,” said Boucher. “You might have seen that there had been some outbreaks, places across the country that have really impacted the ability to have adequate health care workers take care of patients, and that is the worst thing that could happen. And we know leads to unnecessary deaths.”

COVID-19 hospitalizations are higher now than the previous two peaks in April and July.

Recruiting additional medical staff is also more difficult now as more hospitals are seeing surges. In the spring, some medical facilities were laying staff off due to fewer patients.

The CDC says drug-resistant infections decreased when COVID cases dropped. Basic hand hygiene can help prevent the spread of both.