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Episode #61 - COVID-19 & Antibiotics

19 November 2021 | Science conversation

Summary

What have we learned about COVID-19 and antibiotics so far? What happens when antibiotics are not taken according to prescription or are used irrationally? When are antibiotics prescribed in the course of COVID-19 treatment?  Professor Hanan H. Balkhy explains in Science in 5 this week.

 

Podcast

Transcript

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Why should we be concerned about use of antibiotics and COVID-19? What happens when we use antibiotics that are not prescribed or don't use them in the prescribed way? Hello and welcome to science in 5. I'm Vismita Gupta Smith. We are talking to Professor Hanan H. Balkhy on COVID-19?

 Professor Hanan H. Balkhy

Thank you Vismita and it's nice to be with you again. Antibiotics are pharmaceutical agents. They are medications that are useful in treating bacterial infections and not viral infections. And COVID-19, or SARS-CoV-2, is a viral infection that can cause mild disease that where patients remain at home in the communities, or it can lead to moderate or severe disease where patients are admitted to the hospital.

Some of them might even be admitted to the intensive care units. But the problem is that with the large number of COVID-19 patients, the use of antibiotics by health care providers becomes more and more and more so there's excessive use of antibiotics when not needed. The bottom line is that antibiotics treat bacteria and not viruses, and SARS-CoV-2, or COVID-19, is a disease caused by a virus.

Vismita Gupta-Smith

So there is really no recommendation for treating antibiotics for COVID-19 as a pathogen or as a disease.

So Hannan explained to us the scenarios where antibiotics are prescribed during the course of COVID 19 treatment.

Professor Hanan H. Balkhy

A great question Vismita. So when patients are admitted to the hospital and they start having more complexity from their disease so they can have what is known as a super infection with a bacteria, or if they're in the intensive care unit and they're also susceptible to having an overlying bacterial infection on top of the viral infection caused by SARS-CoV-2. And the WHO did come out with recommendations on when to use antibiotics within the course of SARS-CoV-2 patients, and those are usually within the moderate to severe disease classification of this illness.

Vismita Gupta-Smith 

Hannan explained to us why we are concerned about scenarios where people may be taking antibiotics without a prescription or may not be completing the cause, or may be taking antibiotics that has been prescribed for someone else because they heard that this was effective for someone else with similar symptoms. Explain to us why this is a matter of concern for us.

Professor Hanan H. Balkhy

This is a great matter of concern because first of all, there's several things happening in the scenarios you gave. People feel the urge to use antibiotics because they heard from family or friend that it would be useful to them. While antibiotics need to be prescribed by licensed healthcare providers to provide it for the right diagnosis with the right to dosages with the right duration, and this is extremely important. So that's the first issue.

The second issue is in giving them and this and using them irrationally, we’re already allowing for these bacteria to become more and more resistant. We are already at the era, what we call the post antibiotic era where some of our most common and powerful antibiotics are no longer effective and this type of behaviour continues to fuel into the increasing resistance among the bacteria. So we really need to make the communities and people aware of what is the proper use of antibiotics and that they need to be given through a prescription and that they need to be taken seriously.

And if they are given a prescription, they really need to complete the course of treatment. This improper use or irrational use of antibiotics, as I said, only fuels further into resistance development for these bacteria.

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Thank you, Hanan. That was Science in 5 today, until next time then. Stay safe, stay healthy and stick with science. 

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