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Covid lockdowns reduced bacterial diseases spread: Lancet

WHO report shows high levels of resistance were reported in bacteria frequently causing bloodstream infections in hospitals

National lockdowns and public health campaigns introduced at the start of the Coronavirus pandemic have reduced the transmission of deadly invasive bacteria that cause respiratory infections — potentially saving thousands of lives, according to a large study published in The Lancet Digital Health on Friday.

Diseases caused by invasive bacteria, including pneumonia, meningitis, and sepsis, are leading causes of illness and death worldwide, especially among children and older adults. These pathogens are typically transmitted person-to-person via the respiratory route.

The rapid spread of Covid-19 forced many countries to lockdown and create national containment policies leading to a significant reduction in people's movements in all countries.

The study led by Oxford University researchers showed that all countries saw a significant and sustained reduction in invasive bacterial infections between January and May 2020 (around 6,000 fewer cases of invasive disease than expected), compared with the previous two years.

For Streptococcus pneumoniae, infections decreased by 68 per cent at four weeks after Covid-19 containment measures were imposed, and by 82 per cent at eight weeks.

"These results clearly demonstrate that Covid-19 containment measures reduce the transmission of other respiratory pathogens and associated diseases, but they also impose a heavy burden on society that must be carefully considered. Therefore, ongoing microbiological surveillance, such as that shown in this study, is essential," said lead author Angela Brueggemann, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the varsity's Nuffield Department of Population Health.

"Public health efforts must also remain focused on protecting against life-threatening diseases caused by these bacterial pathogens, by implementing the safe and effective vaccines that are already available and in use in many parts of the world," she added.

For the study, the team compared the number of infections reported for three bacteria, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae, and Neisseria meningitidis, during the Covid-19 pandemic with the rates from previous years. Together, these bacterial species are the most common causes of meningitis, pneumonia and sepsis.

Data were sourced from national laboratories and surveillance programmes from 26 countries and territories, spanning six continents.