A Silent Pandemic in the EU: Surge in Antibiotic-Resistant Infections
Infections from some antibiotic-resistant pathogens known as superbugs have more than doubled in healthcare facilities in Europe, the EU health agency said on Thursday.
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control released data showing that reported cases of two highly drug-resistant pathogens increased in 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, before jumping sharply in 2021.
The increase is due to outbreaks in hospital intensive care units as well as outside them. The agency concluded that infections resistant to antimicrobial agents are already widespread.
Data show that last year in Europe, reported cases of invasive infections with Acinetobacter pp. have more than doubled from pre-pandemic levels. Cases of another bacterium, Klebsiella pneumoniae, which is resistant to the strongest antibiotics used only as a last resort, jumped 31% in 2020 and 20% in 2021.
The report did not commit to figures on how many people died from the infections in 2020 and 2021, as it is difficult to definitively determine the cause of death when patients were hospitalized for COVID-19, for example, but according to the European Commission it is about 35 thousand per year.
Some scientists have linked the rise in hospital-acquired infections to the spread of superbugs during the pandemic, with antibiotics widely prescribed to treat COVID-19 and other bacterial infections during long hospital stays, Reuters reports.
According to Dominique Monnet of the European Health Agency, this is the "most plausible hypothesis", but no in-depth analysis of the possible causes has yet been carried out.
The frequency of some other also common superbugs in European hospitals has decreased, which the EU health agency attributes to the reduced number of operations during the pandemic.
Drug resistance develops through misuse or overuse of antibiotics. Concerns about this are not new. Experts call infections with superbugs, including fungal pathogens, a "silent pandemic" that causes more than a million deaths a year but does not attract adequate attention or funding for research.
The European Commission said on Thursday that a pan-European study on antimicrobial resistance showed that half of Europeans still mistakenly believe that antibiotics kill viruses.
According to Eurobarometer data, 23% of those surveyed had taken antibiotics in the past year, the lowest figure since 2009. However, the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics has increased significantly, especially in hospitals. For example, hospital use of carbapenems, the most powerful antibiotics, has increased by 34% between 2012 and 2021.
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