COVID gives rise to potentially deadly secondary infections, antibiotic-resistant superbugs

We're all laser-focused on the coronavirus, but doctors are raising concerns about antibiotic-resistant germs that are intensifying during this pandemic. As the coronavirus weakens patients' immune systems, secondary illnesses like pneumonia are forcing doctors to increase the use of antibiotics for these bacterial infections.

These antibiotic-resistant germs, called superbugs, aided by overuse and certain ingredients in hand sanitizers, have become a huge area of concern in the medical community.

"Most of those really strong antibiotic-resistant bugs are opportunistic and what that means is they're looking for some kind of opportunity to cause disease when the host is in some kind of weakened state," said Karl Klose, PhD, professor of microbiology at University of Texas San Antonio.

The host being the thousands of hospital patients fighting coronavirus. Now, it's combining with antibiotic-resistant bacteria to make people even sicker.

"You pick up these bugs because you're in the hospital. You end up getting a secondary infection because you're not as able to fight off disease anymore and then there is no antibiotics that can treat you," Klose said.

That powerful one-two punch of virus and bacteria sometimes cannot be stopped because many antibiotics simply don't work anymore, rendering them useless in knocking out secondary infections.

After years of doctors over-prescribing antibiotics, and studies warning against overusing hand sanitizers, the drugs no longer work as well against superbugs, or secondary infections in coronavirus patients. Meantime, doctors are working on this super-tolerance to superbugs.

Rice University, for example, is researching something called nano drills that pierce the outside shell of bacteria and deliver drugs right to the source.

"They're very selective and they die by exploding. You punch holes in them and then the cells just bleb and boom," said Jim Tour, PhD, a synthetic organic chemist at Rice University.

There are other methods to kill bacteria, such as ultraviolet, or UV, light. However, scientists offer some cautionary advice when it comes to that.

"Use them in a better way, so that we don't induce antibiotic resistance to all bacteria that we come into contact with," Klose said.

So, what can you do? Do not take antibiotics unless necessary, so that when you do really need them, they are effective. And check your hand sanitizer, an ingredient called triclosan, which can increase superbugs, should not be included. It's banned in the U.S. but has recently turned up in sanitizers and hand soap sold online.
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