Focus on COVID-19 facilitated spread of drug-resistant infections, experts say

The reuse of personal protective equipment in healthcare settings amid COVID-19 likely allowed drug-resistant infections to spread easier, The New York Times reported Jan. 27. 

The Times cited a number of reports showing isolated outbreaks of various drug-resistant infections in Florida, New Jersey and California, as well as in several other countries. Particularly concerning to health officials are growing cases of Candida auris, a fungus the CDC calls a "serious global health threat." Between October 2019 and November 2020, the number of C. auris infections in the U.S. increased from 952 to 1,625, according to data cited by the Times. 

Several experts who spoke to the news outlet, including Susan Huang, MD, infectious disease specialist at the University of California's Irvine Medical School, attributed the increase to hygiene protocol disruptions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"Seeing the world as a one-pathogen world is really problematic," Dr. Huang said. "We have every reason to believe the problem has gotten worse."

Before the pandemic, PPE was changed routinely to prevent the growth of drug-resistant bacteria and fungi. Those protocols were largely abandoned given the scarce PPE supply when the pandemic hit. The demands of treating COVID-19 also led some hospitals and nursing homes to stop screening for the bacteria, leaving experts to believe the true number of infections is higher than reported. 

The uptick could also be linked to the use of steroids used to treat COVID-19, which can leave the immune system vulnerable to contracting other infections, experts told the Times. 


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