Early in Pandemic, Were Antibiotics Prescribed Too Often?

By Robert Preidt
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Sept. 3, 2020 (HealthDay News) — When the coronavirus pandemic first spread across the United States this spring, most COVID-19 patients in Michigan were prescribed unneeded antibiotics, a new study indicates.

Antibiotics don’t work against viruses, including the new coronavirus, and overuse of antibiotics can contribute to antibiotic resistance worldwide.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from more than 1,700 patients with suspected COVID-19 who were admitted to 38 Michigan hospitals in March and April, when the state was one of the pandemic hotspots in the country.

More than half of the patients were given antibiotics soon after arrival in case they had a bacterial infection in addition to the coronavirus. But tests showed that 96.5% of those patients only had COVID-19.

The 3.5% of patients who had a bacterial infection as well as the new coronavirus were more likely to die, according to the study published online recently in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

Faster testing and understanding of infection risk factors could help doctors identify patients with both types of infections and spare other COVID-19 patients the risks associated with the overuse of antibiotics, the researchers said.

The use of antibiotics varied widely between hospitals, the investigators found. In some, only one-fourth of patients received them within two days of admission, while nearly all patients received antibiotics in other hospitals.

As COVID-19 test turnaround time shortened, the use of antibiotics fell, but was still too high, according to study author Dr. Valerie Vaughn, a hospitalist physician who helped launch Michigan Medicine’s COVID-19 intensive care units.

“For every patient who eventually tested positive for both SARS-CoV-2 [the virus that causes COVID-19] and a co-occurring bacterial infection that was present on their arrival, 20 other patients received antibiotics but turned out not to need them,” Vaughn said in a university news release.

“These data show the crucial importance of early and appropriate testing, with rapid turnaround, to ensure appropriate use of antibiotics and reduce unneeded harm,” Vaughn added.

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SOURCE: Michigan Medicine/University of Michigan, news release, Aug. 21, 2020

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