Excess antibiotics and adverse events in patients with pneumonia


Background: Past surveys of providers revealed a tendency to select longer durations of antibiotics to reduce disease recurrence, but recent studies have shown that shorter courses of antibiotics are safe and equally effective in treatment for pneumonia. In addition, there has been a renewed focus on reducing unnecessary use of antibiotics to decrease adverse effects.

Study design: Retrospective cohort study.

Setting: 43 hospitals in the Michigan Hospital Medicine Safety Consortium.

Synopsis: A retrospective chart review of 6,481 patients hospitalized with pneumonia revealed that 67.8% of patients received excessive days of antibiotic treatment. On average, patients received 2 days of excessive treatment and 93.2% of the additional days came in the form of antibiotics prescribed at discharge.

Excessive treatment was defined as more than 5 days for community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) and more than 7 days for health care–associated pneumonia, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or gram-negative organisms. The authors adjusted for time to clinical stability when defining the expected duration of treatment.

After statistical adjustment, excess antibiotic days were not associated with increased rates of C. diff infection, emergency department visits, readmission, or 30-day mortality. Additional treatment was associated with increased patient-reported adverse effects including diarrhea, gastrointestinal distress, and mucosal candidiasis.

The impact of this study is limited by a few factors. The study was observational and relied on provider documentation and patient reporting of adverse events. Also, it was published prior to updates to the Infectious Diseases Society of America CAP guidelines, which may affect how it will be interpreted once those guidelines are released.

Bottom line: Adherence to the shortest effective duration of antibiotic treatment for pneumonia may lead to a reduction in the rates of patient reported adverse effects while not impacting treatment success.

Citation: Vaughn VM et al. Excess antibiotic treatment duration and adverse events in patients hospitalized with pneumonia: A multihospital cohort study. Ann Intern Med. 2019 Aug 6;171(3):153-63.

Dr. Purdy is a hospitalist and assistant professor of internal medicine at St. Louis University School of Medicine.

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