We know too well the dangers of pandemic-causing viruses and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but deadly fungal infections that can shrug off our best treatments are on the rise too
30 December 2020
IN THE month the first lockdown began in England, the number of people seeking emergency hospital treatment fell by around half. It wasn’t that fewer people needed urgent care, but that many feared catching coronavirus, according to doctors. Those concerns are understandable. While control measures have improved since, in May it was estimated that 5 to 20 per cent of people in English hospitals with covid-19 got it while being treated for something else.
The problem of potentially deadly hospital-acquired infections isn’t restricted to the pandemic. Every year, hundreds of millions of people admitted to hospital globally end up with infections that can be more dangerous than their initial condition. The best known causes include methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Clostridium difficile (C. diff), often called superbugs for their ability to shrug off antibiotic treatments. A growing list of conditions, such as pneumonia, tuberculosis sepsis and gonorrhoea, are becoming harder to treat because of antibiotic resistance.
As the current pandemic makes painfully clear, bacteria aren’t the only microbes able to adapt at our expense. In the past few years, a new threat has been setting off alarm bells: treatment-resistant fungal infections. There have been outbreaks at hospitals around the world. Worryingly, 90 per cent of infections caused by the main culprit, Candida auris, are now resistant to one of our mainstay antifungal drugs.
This resistance is developing at an “unprecedented” pace, according to a recent assessment, which warns that the problem isn’t just spreading in our hospitals, but also in fields, gardens and the very air we breathe. So how big is …