The United States is now reporting more than 5.8 million COVID-19 cases and more than 179,000 deaths. As patients’ immune system are weakened by secondary illnesses like pneumonia doctors are forced to increase the use of antibiotics.
Commonly called ‘Superbugs’, these antibiotic-resistant germs, aided by overuse and certain ingredients in hand sanitizers, have become a huge area of concern.
“Most of those really strong antibiotic-resistant bugs are opportunistic and what that means is they’re looking for the opportunity to cause disease when the host is in some kind of weakened state.” said Karl Klose, Ph.D., Professor of Microbiology at UTSA.
The host being the thousands of hospital patients fighting COVID-19. Now, it’s combining with antibiotic-resistant bacteria to make people even sicker.
“You pick up these bugs in the hospital. You end up getting a secondary infection because you’re not as able to fight off disease anymore and then there’s no antibiotics that can treat you.” Dr. 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 well; against super bugs, or secondary infections in coronavirus patients. Meanwhile, 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.
“It’s very selective and they die by exploding. You punch holes in them and then the cells just bleb…boom.” said Jim Tour, Ph.D., Synthetic Organic Chemist at Rice University.
And there are other methods to kill bacteria, such as ultraviolet, or UV light. Scientists, however, have some cautionary advice.
“Use them in a better way, so that we don’t induce antibiotic resistance to all bacteria that we come into contact with.” Dr. Klose said.