QUB researchers warn of co-infections related to COVID-19

  • Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) have warned that other fatal bacterial respiratory infections may arise in COVID-19 patients, in the aftermath of the pandemic.

    Dr Connor Bamford and Prof José Bengoechea released a new paper that urges caution over a new wave of antimicrobial resistance associated to COVID-19 treatments.

    The researchers suggest other infections may arise subsequently or co-incidentally from hospital stays and therapies given to treat patients with COVID-19.

    Co-existing bacterial infection alongside the virus may worsen the clinical outcome and the severity of COVID-19 in a patient, increasing the risk of death.

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    Clinical data and post-mortem analysis of tissues from COVID-19 patients already indicate the presence of bacterial co-infections.

    The paper highlights how SARS-CoV-2 and bacteria in the lungs may affect each other’s ability to cause damage, and with the immune response to the virus being different when bacteria are present, the clinical outcome and the severity of COVID-19 in a patient could worsen.

    The paper also suggests the likeliness of the gut microbiota being disrupted in severe COVID-19 patients, which may affect disease outcomes, including predisposition to secondary bacterial infections of the lung.

    José Bengoechea is a professor of molecular microbiology and explained: “The lack of therapies to treat severe COVID-19 patients led clinicians to use a number of treatments to modify the activity of their immune system.

    “However, it is important to note that these interventions may also increase the risk of potentially fatal secondary bacterial respiratory infections. Therefore, careful consideration should be given whether any potential new therapy may affect the patients’ defences against bacterial infections.

    "We believe that there is an urgent need to develop new therapeutics to treat COVID-19 targeting the virus/bacteria co-infection scenario.”

    Nearly all severe COVID-19 patients are being treated with broad- spectrum antibiotics, which may have limited results and are also associated with higher mortality.

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recently expressed fears that the coronavirus pandemic will increase the global threat of antimicrobial resistance as many coronavirus patients receive antibiotics as part of their treatment regime.

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    Virologist Dr Connor Bamford said: “Our research suggests that bacterial infection alongside the virus is likely to make the COVID-19 worse, although we don’t yet know the true extent.

    “The rise of antimicrobial resistance in bacteria means this situation is harder to treat. It is clear that we will need new drugs that take into consideration both the virus and the bacteria.”

    Prof Bengoechea concluded: “It is critical that co-infections should not be underestimated and instead be part of the plan to limit the global burden of morbidity and mortality during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

    “We hope that our research exploring the role of bacterial and SARS-CoV-2 co-infections will result in the improved health of COVID-19 patients and possibly even save lives.”

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    The full research paper has been published in EMBO Molecular Medicine here

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    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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