COVID-19 reverses AR progress

August 25, 2022

Recently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), issued a press release illustrating the great progress that the health care systems in the United States have made in recent decades reducing Antimicrobial Resistance (AR). However, the strides in curbing AR have been at least partially reversed because of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.

Healthcare Associated Infections (HAIs) of antibiotic resistant microorganisms increased 15% from 2019, the year before the pandemic spread worldwide, to 2020. The same percentage, 15%, of antimicrobial-resistant infection hospital deaths also occurred. Between 2012 and 2017, there was a 27% reduction in antimicrobial resistant infections in the United States.

  • carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter – a 78% increase in infections.
  • multidrug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa – a 32% increase in infections.
  • vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE) – a 14% increase in infections.
  • methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) – a 13% increase in infections.

CDC data shows significant surges in antibiotic use and difficulty in following infection prevention and control guidance, which are key to preventing antimicrobial-resistant infections and their spread. During the pandemic, hospitals experienced personal protective equipment supply challenges, staffing shortages and longer patient stays.

Michael Craig, M.P.P., Director of CDC’s Antibiotic Resistance Coordination & Strategy Unit, said, “This setback can and must be temporary. The COVID-19 pandemic has unmistakably shown us that antimicrobial resistance will not stop if we let down our guard; there is no time to waste, and the best way to avert a pandemic caused by an antimicrobial-resistant pathogen is to identify gaps and invest in prevention to keep our nation safe.”

Denise Cardo, M.D., Director of the CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, said, “We need to emphasize and expand the implementation of the effective prevention strategies that are already in CDC’s toolbox to all healthcare facilities. We made significant progress before the pandemic, and I’m confident that we will make significant progress going forward.”

Steps to reduce the number of AR microbial infections include:

  • Enhanced data systems and sharing among healthcare systems and public health labs for closer monitoring and responding to outbreaks.
  • Infection control guidance for healthcare facilities and personnel. 
  • Prudent antibiotic/antifungal use and access, both in healthcare and food production.
  • Environmental monitoring and sanitation through AR microorganism screening in wastewater to determine community acquired infections (CAIs), and healthcare facilities to determine HAIs. 
  • Development of new vaccines, antimicrobial therapeutics and diagnostics.

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