COVID-19 has led to an increase in antibiotic use; here’s why that’s a concern

CBS4 This Morning

INDIANAPOLIS –While coronavirus continues to dominate the headlines, there are growing concerns of another threat

One side effect of COVID-19 is that it opens our bodies up to secondary infections such as pneumonia. To help fight those infections, powerful antibiotics are prescribed. But as those antibiotics are being used more and more, concern is growing that they could be overused. Such overuse can lead to the potential rise in antibiotic resistant germs or superbugs.

“I do believe there’s a risk of having more drug resistance in the next few months and the next couple of years,” said Dr. Ram Yeleti, chief physician executive for Community Health.

Concern about superbugs is nothing new, however, during a pandemic the concept is especially troubling. In March and April, prescriptions of the antibiotic Azithromycin spiked. Awareness of Azithromycin jumped after President Donald Trump endorsed it as a medication that could “clean out the lungs,” particularly if used in combination with the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine.

As evidence emerged of the negative effects of hydroxychloroquine, prescriptions dropped. Yet due to secondary infections caused by COVID-19, doctors have still had to rely on antibiotics.

“There is a definite concern, that not necessarily due to over prescribing, but the fact that COVID-19 is causing other infections, especially in you’re in the hospital, that we’re going to be running out of antibiotics in our arsenal and how to treat patients,” Yeleti said.

Yeleti also acknowledged that patients themselves have begun to view antibiotics as a “cure all” for anything that ails them, often relying on antibiotics to clear out issues that don’t require them.

A societal need for expediency, the use of quick visit urgent cares or virtual visits as opposed to using a primary physician can lead to the overuse of antibiotics. While expediency is important, Yeleti says it’s even more important to think big picture as opposed to immediate impact.

“We just need to realize that for your own long-term health. If the next time you do have a serious infection, and your body is resistant to antibiotics because you took it when you didn’t need to, then you’re the one that’s going to end up suffering in the long term. Our body remembers these antibiotics,” he said.

“So, if you get an antibiotic today and didn’t need it, you may develop a resistance next year. If you’re sick with something more serious, that same antibiotic won’t affect you as well. So it’s really about your own well-being for the long term, not just the short term. But those are not always so easy to appreciate or understand.”

Yeleti says the most important thing is to have an honest and thorough conversation with your health provider about what you’re experiencing so a tailored approach can be taken. He adds that when it comes to health, it’s important not to rush things.

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