United Kingdom

Overuse of antibiotics to prevent or treat coronavirus will lead to more deaths, WHO warns 

Overuse of antibiotics to treat patients infected with the novel coronavirus will lead to more deaths, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Monday.

Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a 'worrying number' of bacterial infections are becoming resistant to the medications commonly used to treat them.

He said that he and his colleagues were concerned that inappropriately using antibiotics during the pandemic would only worsen the threat of resistance. 

'The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increased use of antibiotics, which ultimately will lead to higher bacterial resistance rates that will impact the burden of disease and deaths during the pandemic and beyond,' Tedros said during a press conference. 

The World Health Organization warned on Monday that using antibiotics to treat coronavirus will lead to higher bacterial resistance rates and, in turn, more deaths. Pictured: WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during a press conference, February 28

New guidelines were issued asking doctors not to provide antibiotics as a treatment or a prophylactic for patients with mild to moderate illnesses if a bacterial infection is not suspected. Pictured: Nurse Paula Johnson administers a deep suction tube into the lungs of a COVID-19 patient, in the ICU of Roseland Community Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, April 22

Antibiotics have been doled out unnecessarily by physicians and hospital staff for decades, turning once harmless bacteria into superbugs.

Bacteria can become drug resistant when people take incorrect doses of antibiotics or if they are given out unnecessarily. 

Superbugs cause 2.8 million infections and 35,000 deaths in the US every year, according to a 2019 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Estimates show that superbugs will kill 10 million people each year by 2050, with most succumbing to bugs that were previously deemed insignificant.

The WHO has previously warned that if nothing is done, the world is heading for a 'post-antibiotic' era.

'It's clear that the world is losing its ability to use critically important antimicrobial medicines,' Tedros said on Monday. 

'The threat of antimicrobial resistance is one of the most urgent challenges of our time.' 

The WHO said only a small number of patients with COVID-19 need antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections.

Because of this, the UN health agency is issuing new guidelines, recommending that doctors not provide antibiotics as a treatment or a prophylactic for patients with mild to moderate illnesses without suspicion of a bacterial infection. 

Tedros said new models are need to combat the threat of antibiotic resistance.

'On the supply side, there is essentially very little market incentive to developing new antibiotics and antimicrobial agents, which has led to multiple market failures of very promising tools in the past few years,' he said. 

The WHO also released the results of a survey, which found that the prevention and treatment of non-communicable diseases had been disrupted since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in December.

Approximately 53 percent of countries said treatment services for hypertension had been partially or completely disrupted.

About 49 percent reported disruption for diabetes treatment and related complications, 42 percent  for cancer treatment, and 31 percent for cardiovascular emergencies.

Some of the most common reasons for little to no services included canceled planned treatment sessions and staff being reassigned to treat coronavirus patients. 

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