By Oliver Schacht
Rapid diagnostics have taken center stage in global efforts to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.
These technologies play an essential role in strategies for timely and appropriate treatment and decreasing transmission risks, two important factors in the containment and prevention of fast-spreading respiratory infections that threaten public health. Until recently, rapid diagnostics have focused primarily on testing specifically for COVID-19 but that’s now changing.
As efforts to manage COVID-19 continue, studies have revealed a new risk that hospitals and healthcare providers are increasingly concerned about. Bacterial co-infections, such as pneumonia and sepsis, are on the rise, with an estimated one in seven COVID-19 patients developing a secondary bacterial infection while hospitalized, especially with patients that are ventilated. Furthermore, experts worry that they will see multi drug resistant bacterial infections in these patients. Rapid diagnostic testing needs to expand beyond its narrow focus on COVID-19 to identify the presence of deadly co-infections and AMR pathogens that can severely compromise patient outcomes.
Bacterial co-infections: A hidden and deadly emerging risk
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High-risk COVID-19 patients, many of which are older or have preexisting conditions that compromise their immune system, already face a severe threat to their health and respiratory system. When combined with a bacterial co-infection such as pneumonia, the morality risk increases drastically. One recent study found that while 50% of patient deaths were due to the original viral infection, the other 50% were caused by subsequent secondary bacterial infections.
The care pathway required for high-risk patients with COVID-19 can put them at greater risk for contracting these deadly secondary bacterial co-infections. For example, severely ill patients often require mechanical ventilation in order to breathe, but this life-saving tool is known to exacerbate bacterial infections. Furthermore, extended stays in the ICU as a result of delayed diagnosis and treatment or antimicrobial resistance can increase the risk of complications from co-infections and even lead to mortality.
Hospitals should give careful consideration to their current testing procedures for COVID-19 and incorporate simultaneous testing for a broader spectrum of bacterial pathogens and antibiotic resistance markers where warranted. Fortunately, FDA-cleared rapid diagnostic technologies for these bacterial co-infections already exist and can seamlessly be incorporated when COVID-19 tests are administered.