The novel coronavirus is now responsible for over 473,000 deaths, around the world with the number of cases increasing day by day. Even though there has been a lot of research on the virus since the beginning of the pandemic, the medical community states that there is still a lot to learn about how the infections cause death.
In comparison with previous coronavirus outbreaks, the SARS-CoV-2 is not as deadly. Scientists have noted that people with COVID-19 usually lose their lives due to complications that develop alongside the infection. One of the most common problems that can occur with coronavirus infection is a secondary bacterial infection.
In medical terminology, a bacterial or fungal infection developing after the initial viral infection is known as superinfection. Research from the early days of the pandemic suggests that superinfections were the reason for nearly fifty percent of the coronavirus deaths.
Superinfections are actually really common in people especially those who have been hospitalized for viral infection. Therefore, the occurrence of the complication in coronavirus patients did not come as surprise to the majority of the scientists and health care workers.
Previously, superinfections had also been a part of other epidemics, including the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. The health complication may have been the primary reason for the high number of deaths and cases back then also.
In the current coronavirus pandemic, superinfections may be equally dangerous. What makes bacterial infections coinciding with viral infections deadly? Bacterial infections are, in most cases, easily treatable. However, the bacteria responsible for superinfections are usually drug-resistant.
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Drug-resistant bacteria do not respond to any of the antibiotics available today, which makes them extremely hard to treat. Therefore, common infections including Urinary tract infections (UTIs) caused by drug-resistant bacteria can also be life-threatening.
Corrie Detweiler, a microbiologist at the University of Colorado and specializes in treatment for drug-resistant bacteria, explains “What’s going on here is that half of COVID patients are getting untreatable antimicrobial-resistant infections, so our antibiotics, our antifungals just don’t work,”
“The superinfection problem isn’t new at all. It’s just that COVID is highlighting it.” Detweiler. People with coronavirus infection are more prone to drug-resistant bacterial infections and are rapidly getting them due to long stays in hospitals.
This goes especially for those who are admitted to intensive care units due to increased complications and severe stages of the disease. The average time spent in ICUs can last for weeks which increases the risk of catching secondary infections from the hospital.
The Yale Medicine infectious disease specialist, Dr. Matthew Grant, further explains that coronavirus infection patients are also at a higher risk of other infections since they get catheters and IVs frequently. Both of these make it easier for bacteria to enter the body and cause bloodstream infections and UTIs.
Grant adds ventilators can also make it easy for bacteria to enter the body. People who are on the ventilator for a long period of time are likely to develop ventilator-associated pneumonia. This is a condition that develops when pathogens are able to enter lungs through the ventilator.
Thirdly, Grant also commented on the treatment for coronavirus, which sometimes includes immunosuppressants and steroids, both of which have been associated with secondary infections previously. For example, immunosuppressant drug tocilizumab which has been linked to an increased risk of bacterial infections is also a part of coronavirus treatment.