As COVID-19 took hold over the past year, hospitals and nursing homes used and reused scarce protective equipment. This desperate frugality helped prevent the airborne transfer of the virus.
But it also appears to have helped spread a different set of germs — drug-resistant bacteria and fungi. These bacteria and fungi can cling tenaciously to clothing and medical equipment, which is why nursing homes and hospitals before the pandemic were focused on cleaning rooms and changing gowns to prevent their spread.
That emphasis all but slipped away amid an all-consuming focus on the coronavirus. "Seeing the world as a one-pathogen world is really problematic," said Dr. Susan S. Huang, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California at Irvine Medical School. "We have every reason to believe the problem [of drug-resistant infection] has gotten worse."
Overall figures have been hard to track since screenings were sidelined amid the pandemic. But there have been isolated outbreaks in Florida, New Jersey, California, India, Italy, Peru and France. When modest screening picked up in the summer, the results pointed to increases of a fungus called Candida auris. 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.
Huang and other experts said renewed attention must be paid to drug-resistant germs. Earlier research has shown that as many as 65% of residents of nursing homes carry some form of drug-resistant infection.