Antibiotics significantly overprescribed during early months of pandemic, study suggests

Despite few hospitalized COVID-19 patients having a bacterial infection, a majority of hospitalizations led to at least one antibiotic prescription, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts' Antibiotic Resistance Project published March 10.

Researchers used electronic health records to evaluate the frequency of bacterial infections and antibiotic prescribing patterns in COVID-19 patients hospitalized between Feb. 1, 2020, and July 31, 2020, and who were discharged by Sept. 7, 2020. The analysis included 5,838 COVID-19 hospital admissions across the U.S., representing 4,980 patients, as some were admitted numerous times during the study period. 

Four findings: 

1. Fifty-two percent of hospital admissions led to at least one antibiotic prescription, and 36 percent led to a patient being prescribed multiple antibiotics. 

2. Overall, 20 percent of hospitalized COVID-19 patients were diagnosed with suspected or confirmed bacterial pneumonia, and 9 percent were diagnosed with a community-acquired urinary tract infection. 

3. While it usually takes at least 48 hours to confirm a bacterial infection, in 96 percent of admissions that resulted in an antibiotic prescription, patients received the medication at the time of admission or within 48 hours. 

4. Just 15 percent of admissions resulted in a patient receiving both an antibiotic within the first 48 hours and another course after that, suggesting fewer antibiotics are prescribed as physicians gather more information.

"Our data shows there was very likely a significant amount of unnecessary antibiotic prescribing among hospitalized COVID-19 patients," said Rachel Zetts, an officer with Pew's antibiotic resistance project and study co-author. 

Lack of guidance on treatment during earlier stages of the pandemic may have been a factor in the overuse of antibiotics, she added. 

"Overprescribing on this scale could negatively impact the progress we've made in the fight against antibiotic resistance over recent years, so encouraging physicians to reduce inappropriate antibiotic use and equipping them with the tools needed to do so is critical," Ms. Zetts told Becker's. "In the event of the next pandemic, having antibiotic stewardship programs in place not only helps improve patient care during the public health emergency itself, but it also helps preserve the effectiveness of existing antibiotics."

To view the full report, click here.

More articles on patient safety and outcomes:

5+ early symptoms may predict 'long COVID,' study finds
Nearly 50% of women get inappropriate antibiotic prescriptions for UTI, study finds
COVID-19 death risk 64% higher for UK variant, study suggests


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