Antimicrobial stewardship in the ICU in COVID-19 times: the known unknowns

Int J Antimicrob Agents. 2021 Oct;58(4):106409. doi: 10.1016/j.ijantimicag.2021.106409. Epub 2021 Jul 30.


Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been concern about the concomitant rise of antimicrobial resistance. While bacterial co-infections seem rare in COVID-19 patients admitted to hospital wards and intensive care units (ICUs), an increase in empirical antibiotic use has been described. In the ICU setting, where antibiotics are already abundantly-and often inappropriately-prescribed, the need for an ICU-specific antimicrobial stewardship programme is widely advocated. Apart from essentially warning against the use of antibacterial drugs for the treatment of a viral infection, other aspects of ICU antimicrobial stewardship need to be considered in view of the clinical course and characteristics of COVID-19. First, the distinction between infectious and non-infectious (inflammatory) causes of respiratory deterioration during an ICU stay is difficult, and the much-debated relevance of fungal and viral co-infections adds to the complexity of empirical antimicrobial prescribing. Biomarkers such as procalcitonin for the decision to start antibacterial therapy for ICU nosocomial infections seem to be more promising in COVID-19 than non-COVID-19 patients. In COVID-19 patients, cytomegalovirus reactivation is an important factor to consider when assessing patients infected with SARS-CoV-2 as it may have a role in modulating the patient immune response. The diagnosis of COVID-19-associated invasive aspergillosis is challenging because of the lack of sensitivity and specificity of the available tests. Furthermore, altered pharmacokinetic/pharmacodynamic properties need to be taken into account when prescribing antimicrobial therapy. Future research should now further explore the 'known unknowns', ideally with robust prospective study designs.

Keywords: Antimicrobial stewardship; COVID-19; ICU; Recommendations.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Antimicrobial Stewardship / methods*
  • Antimicrobial Stewardship / organization & administration
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • COVID-19 Drug Treatment*
  • Coinfection / drug therapy
  • Coinfection / microbiology
  • Cross Infection / diagnosis*
  • Cross Infection / drug therapy
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / drug therapy
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / virology
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Invasive Pulmonary Aspergillosis / diagnosis
  • Invasive Pulmonary Aspergillosis / drug therapy
  • Virus Activation / drug effects


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Biomarkers