At the height of the pandemic, doctors and nurses made furious efforts to protect themselves with gowns and masks and scrambled to save the lives of the severely ill Covid-19 patients with ventilators.
But these efforts, among other life saving measures, had a side effect: drug-resistant infections have increased in hospitals.
The development, reported on Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, came about in part because drug-resistant bacteria thrived on reused protective equipment, intravenous lines and medical equipment like ventilators.
Drug-resistant infections have in recent years become a gnawing, sometimes deadly, problem. The threat has grown as various germs — notably bacteria and fungi — have mutated and developed defenses that allow them to resist medications and thrive; the germs prey in particular on older patients and the immunocompromised, limiting drug options to counter infections or, in extreme cases, leaving no effective treatments.
Immense efforts have been made in recent years to slow the growth of these noxious microbes that, increasingly, resist treatment by various classes of medicines. In the second half of 2020, though, “sometimes these efforts went terribly wrong,” with so much focus on stopping transmission of Covid-19, according to a commentary that accompanies the new study by the C.D.C. The authors wrote that the practices best known to stop the spread of drug-resistant infections were ignored or subverted in the face of a larger threat.
Drug-resistant bloodstream infections at hospitals rose 47 percent in the last three months of 2020 compared to the same period a year earlier. That was a sharp change in momentum. In the first three months of 2020, such infections had fallen nearly 12 percent compared to the same period a year earlier, reflecting heightened efforts at the time to stop the spread.
Similar trends showed up with regard to infections traced to ventilators, which rose 45 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020 over the previous year. During the same period, infections from one bacterium — methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA —rose 34 percent after having fallen in the first quarter of 2020 as compared to the same period a year earlier.