The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in excess use of 216.4 million doses of antibiotics and 38 million doses of azithromycin between the months of June and September 2020, according to a study conducted at Washington University. The period between June and September coincides with the first wave of the pandemic in the country. The overuse of these drugs raises concerns over the increasing risk of drug-resistant infections.
The researchers analysed the data on the sale of all antibiotics in the country’s private sector between January 2018 and December 2020. The individual sale of azithromycin was also tracked as initial studies claimed that it could be used to treat COVID-19.
The data indicated a jump in the sales of azithromycin from 4% in 2018 to 5.9% in the pandemic year of 2020. The overall use of antibiotics, focussing on adult doses, increased to 76.8% in 2020 as compared to 72.6% and 72.5% in 2018 and 2019 respectively.
The researchers flagged the high use of antibiotics as ‘inappropriate’ because they are used to fight bacterial infections and not a virus like COVID-19. Moreover, the overuse of antibiotics can reduce their effectiveness against common infections like pneumonia, which can make these minor diseases deadlier, the research adds. “Antibiotic resistance is one of the greatest threats to global public health,” says epidemiologist and senior author of the study, Sumanth Gandra.
The research was published in the PLOS Medicine journal. Among other things, it noted an increased use of antibiotics- doxycycline and faropenem. While the use of antibiotics witnessed a massive surge in India, high-income countries like the US saw a decline in antibiotic sales in 2020. The study results indicate that almost every Indian infected with COVID-19 was administered an antibiotic, according to epidemiologist Sumanth Gandra.