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The role of co-infections and secondary infections in patients with COVID-19

  • Feldman, Charles1
  • Anderson, Ronald2
  • 1 University of the Witwatersrand Medical School, 7 York Road, Parktown, Johannesburg, 2193, South Africa , Johannesburg (South Africa)
  • 2 University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa , Pretoria (South Africa)
Published Article
BioMed Central
Publication Date
Apr 25, 2021
DOI: 10.1186/s41479-021-00083-w
Springer Nature


BackgroundIt has been recognised for a considerable time-period, that viral respiratory infections predispose patients to bacterial infections, and that these co-infections have a worse outcome than either infection on its own. However, it is still unclear what exact roles co-infections and/or superinfections play in patients with COVID-19 infection.Main bodyThis was an extensive review of the current literature regarding co-infections and superinfections in patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection. The definitions used were those of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US), which defines coinfection as one occurring concurrently with the initial infection, while superinfections are those infections that follow on a previous infection, especially when caused by microorganisms that are resistant, or have become resistant, to the antibiotics used earlier. Some researchers have envisioned three potential scenarios of bacterial/SARS-CoV-2 co-infection; namely, secondary SARS-CoV-2 infection following bacterial infection or colonisation, combined viral/bacterial pneumonia, or secondary bacterial superinfection following SARS-CoV-2. There are a myriad of published articles ranging from letters to the editor to systematic reviews and meta-analyses describing varying ranges of co-infection and/or superinfection in patients with COVID-19. The concomitant infections described included other respiratory viruses, bacteria, including mycobacteria, fungi, as well as other, more unusual, pathogens. However, as will be seen in this review, there is often not a clear distinction made in the literature as to what the authors are referring to, whether true concomitant/co-infections or superinfections. In addition, possible mechanisms of the interactions between viral infections, including SARS-CoV-2, and other infections, particularly bacterial infections are discussed further. Lastly, the impact of these co-infections and superinfections in the severity of COVID-19 infections and their outcome is also described.ConclusionThe current review describes varying rates of co-infections and/or superinfections in patients with COVID-19 infections, although often a clear distinction between the two is not clear in the literature. When they occur, these infections appear to be associated with both severity of COVID-19 as well as poorer outcomes.

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