ICYMI: Increase in drug-resistant superbugs during COVID-19 highlights need for policy reforms to address antimicrobial resistance

A new report shows the number of antimicrobial-resistant infections rose dramatically during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Portrait of Andrew Powaleny
Andrew PowalenyJuly 14, 2022

ICYMI: Increase in drug-resistant superbugs during COVID-19 highlights need for policy reforms to address antimicrobial resistance.

A new report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows the number of antimicrobial-resistant (AMR) infections rose dramatically during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. After years of decline, these drug-resistant infections – often referred to as “superbugs” – caused a 15% increase in hospitalizations and deaths in 2020 alone. Antibiotic and antifungal medicines are critical to the everyday practice of medicine, yet many of our existing medicines may soon no longer be enough.

AMR occurs when microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites change in ways that make the medicines used to cure the infections they cause insufficient. As more patients were hospitalized due to severe COVID-19 infections during the first year of the pandemic, the use of antibiotics increased exponentially. Between March 2020 and October 2020, nearly 80% of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 were given antibiotics to broadly fight COVID-19 and secondary co-infections that were contracted while on ventilators or other medical devices, even if they didn’t have confirmed bacterial infections. The spike in antibiotic use caused increased levels of resistance in several fungal and bacterial pathogens.

In this new CDC report, which comes as our country sees another uptick in hospitalizations due to new variants of COVID-19, health officials highlight the alarming increase in resistant infections:

  • AMR infections and deaths caused by seven superbugs found in hospital patients both increased at least 15% during the first year of the pandemic, with some growing substantially more resistant.

    • Candida auris, a mutidrug-resistant yeast (a type of fungus) that can cause severe infections and spread easily between hospitalized patients and nursing home residents, increased over 60%.

    • Carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter cause pneumonia and wound, bloodstream and urinary tract infections that tend to occur in patients in intensive care units. This pathogen’s resistance to existing medicines increased over 78%.

  • AMR infections cause more than 3 million infections and nearly 50,000 deaths in the United States each year. Globally, AMR infections remain a leading cause of death.

  • Six of the 18 most alarming AMR threats cost the U.S. more than $4.6 billion annually.

While this latest increase is concerning, our industry is stepping up to take on the challenge – the AMR Action Fund has invested nearly $1 billion to bring new antimicrobials to market by 2030, focusing on innovative medicines that address the highest priority public health needs. This industry-driven effort, along with comprehensive policy reforms like the PASTEUR ACT, which would incentivize companies to develop new antimicrobial medicines, are important steps to address this preventable crisis.

We encourage you to learn more at PhRMA.org/AMR about the medicines being developed to combat AMR infections and the policy changes needed to help biopharmaceutical innovation stay steps ahead of these drug-resistant superbugs.

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