Incorporating these panels both during the initial testing process and throughout a patient’s entire hospital stay achieves several key goals.

  • Avoiding misdiagnosis. More comprehensive testing rules out conditions that could be misdiagnosed during the fast-paced effort to provide care and ease patient suffering. This is even more crucial to patient care during a pandemic situation where symptoms are indicative of a variety of ailments.
  • Administering faster treatment. With a full understanding of their patient’s condition, in a matter of hours instead of days, doctors can take appropriate action on antibiotic treatment faster.
  • Preventing transmission. A study reported that, during the emergence of SARS in 2003, 76 percent of SARS-CoV infections were acquired in health care facilities,  and patients with bacterial infections were found to be potential sources of superspreading. If doctors are able to identify other highly infectious diseases, including drug-resistant strains, they can isolate affected patients and reduce transmission rates.
  • Preserving antibiotics. If other bacterial pathogens are detected, these tests also provide guidance on proper treatment, including informed use of antibiotics for patients who need them. Test results that encourage antibiotic stewardship can lower a patient’s risk of developing a drug-resistant infection and subsequent complications, while also preserving precious antibiotics by decreasing the depletion of intravenous antibiotics that are in short supply.
  • Decreasing length of stay. If the above protocols and steps are taken, another result of effective testing and clear direction for the treatment of these co-infections can be reduction in time patients spend in critical care. Not only is this beneficial to the patients, it also frees up hospital beds and equipment for more urgent cases.

As health care workers focus on providing critically ill coronavirus patients and at-risk individuals with access to the best possible care, we must not underestimate the danger of bacterial co-infections that can arise during treatment or be exacerbated by preexisting conditions and hospital stays. If things continue at the current pace, these critically ill hospitalized patients are likely to be impacted by secondary infections, and many will die as a result.

Addressing the issue is simple. Fast and reliable testing panels and modern molecular diagnostic technologies already exist for these bacterial co-infections. Caregivers, doctors and advocates for the most at-risk populations should incorporate these into the COVID-19 care and treatment model moving forward to ease suffering and improve outcomes.

Note: The author is CEO of OpGen, which makes diagnostic panels that detect a broad range of bacterial pathogens and resistance markers, many of which are common co-infections for COVID-19 patients.