Antibiotic resistance during and beyond COVID-19

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Antibiotics underpin the 'modern medicine' that has increased life expectancy, leading to societies with sizeable vulnerable elderly populations who have suffered disproportionately during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Governments have responded by shuttering economies, limiting social interactions and refocusing healthcare. There are implications for antibiotic resistance both during and after these events. During spring 2020, COVID-19-stressed ICUs relaxed stewardship, perhaps promoting resistance. Counterpoised to this, more citizens died at home and total hospital antibiotic use declined, reducing selection pressure. Restricted travel and social distancing potentially reduced community import and transmission of resistant bacteria, though hard data are lacking. The future depends on the vaccines now being deployed. Unequivocal vaccine success should allow a swift return to normality. Vaccine failure followed by extended and successful non-pharmaceutical suppression may lead to the same point, but only after some delay, and with indefinite travel restrictions; sustainability is doubtful. Alternatively, failure of vaccines and control measures may prompt acceptance that we must live with the virus, as in the prolonged 1889-94 'influenza' (or coronavirus OC43) pandemic. Vaccine failure scenarios, particularly those accepting 'learning to live with the virus', favour increased outpatient management of non-COVID-19 infections using oral and long t½ antibiotics. Ultimately, all models - except those envisaging societal collapse - suggest that COVID-19 will be controlled and that hospitals will revert to pre-2020 patterns with a large backlog of non-COVID-19 patients awaiting treatment. Clearing this will increase workloads, stresses, nosocomial infections, antibiotic use and resistance. New antibiotics, including cefiderocol, are part of the answer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)i5–i16
Number of pages12
JournalJAC-Antimicrobial Resistance
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2021

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