Study: Widespread Increase of Antibiotic Use In VA Hospitals Amid COVID-19 Pandemic


The recent uptick in antibiotic use interrupted a steady 4-year downward trend, according to study authors.


Results of a new study showed a widespread increase in antibiotic use across Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities in response to the first surge of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Study researchers, who presented the results at the annual meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), IDWeek 2020, asserted that the antibiotic use interrupted a steady 4-year downward trend and indicates waning antibiotic stewardship practices.

Investigators observed antibiotic practices at 84 of the largest VA facilities throughout the United States that were battling the pandemic, as well as those that were not acutely affected by COVID-19.

Of the facilities analyzed between January to May of 2020, antibiotic use increased by 27 days of therapy per 1000 patient days, demonstrating a 4% increase. Researchers found increases in antibiotic use to be most prominent for the treatment of community acquired pneumonia and highly resistant gram-negative bacteria.

In comparison, prior to the pandemic, antibiotic use per 1000 patient days in VA medical facilities had been decreasing at a 1.5% rate each year between 2015 and 2019, according to researchers.

Further investigation aims to determine how the COVID-19 pandemic has steered prescription behaviors and antibiotic use.

“The pandemic provided new challenges to hospital systems that weren’t prepared to manage it—from an onslaught of patients to a shortage of rapid diagnostic tests,” said Matthew B. Goetz, MD, lead author of the study and chief of infectious diseases at VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System in Los Angeles, California. “The resulting increase in antibiotic use highlights an opportunity to build a more resilient system that is strengthened against future outbreaks.”


  1. Antibiotic Use At Veterans Affairs’ Hospitals Increases During COVID-19 Pandemic, Reversing A Four-Year Downward Trend. News Release. Infectious Diseases Society of America; October 23, 2020. Accessed November 1, 2020.

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