With All Eyes on Covid-19, Drug-Resistant Infections Crept In

“We saw a blooming in Candida auris,” said Dr. Rubin, who attributed the change to a handful of factors, notably the challenges in testing for the germ when so many testing resources went toward Covid-19.

Noxious drug-resistant bacteria are surfacing too, including Carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii, which is considered an “urgent health threat” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In December, the C.D.C. reported a cluster of Acinetobacter baumannii during a surge of Covid-19 patients in an urban New Jersey hospital with about 500 beds. The hospital was not identified. And hospitals in Italy and Peru saw the spread of the bacteria Klebsiella pneumoniae.

In an acknowledgment of the issue, three major medical societies sent a letter on Dec. 28 to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services asking for a temporary suspension of rules that tie reimbursement rates to hospital-acquired infections. The three groups — the Society of Healthcare Epidemiology of America, the Society of Infectious Diseases Pharmacists, and the Association for Infection Control and Epidemiology — feared that the infection rates may have risen because of Covid-19.

“Patient care staffing, supplies, care sites and standard practices have all changed during this extraordinary time,” the letter stated.

Not all types of drug-resistant infections have risen. For instance, some research shows no particular change during the pandemic in the rate of hospital patients acquiring the bacterium Clostridioides difficile — a finding that suggests the overall long-term impact of the pandemic on these infections is not yet clear.

Dr. Huang and other experts said they are not suggesting that the priority on fighting Covid-19 was misplaced. Rather, they say that renewed attention must be paid to drug-resistant germs. Earlier research has shown that as many as 65 percent of residents of nursing homes carry some form of drug-resistant infection.

Over the years, critics have charged that hospitals and, in particular, nursing homes, have been lax in their efforts to confront these infections because it is expensive to disinfect equipment, train staff, isolate infected patients and screen for the germs.

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