Patient Care

De-Escalating Antibiotics in Sepsis


Clinical question: Does tailoring antibiotics based on known pathogens impact mortality for patients with severe sepsis or shock?

Background: In patients with sepsis, the use of early empiric antibiotics reduces morbidity and mortality. De-escalation therapy refers to narrowing the broad-spectrum antibiotics once the pathogen and sensitivities are known; however, no randomized controlled studies have assessed the impact of this therapy on critically ill patients.

Study design: Prospective observational study.

Setting: Academic hospital ICU in Spain.

Synopsis: From January 2008 to May 2012, 628 adult patients were treated empirically with broad-spectrum antibiotics. De-escalation was applied to 219 patients (34.9%). Outcomes measured were ICU mortality, hospital mortality, and 90-day mortality in patients who received de-escalation therapy, patients whose antibiotics were not changed, and patients for whom antibiotics were escalated.

The in-hospital mortality rate was 27.4% in patients who were de-escalated, 32.6% in the unchanged group, and 42.9% in the escalation group. ICU and 90-day mortality were lower in the de-escalation group. De-escalation was more commonly used in medical than in surgical patients.

This study is limited because it is not a randomized controlled study and was single-centered, so it might only be applicable on the larger scale. Also, multi-drug resistant organisms were not evaluated.

Overall, it is safe to narrow empiric antibiotics in severe sepsis and shock when the pathogen and sensitivities are known.

Bottom line: De-escalation of antibiotics in severe sepsis and septic shock is associated with a lower mortality.

Citation: Garnacho-Montero J, Gutierrez-Pizarraya A, Escoresca-Ortega A, et al. De-escalation of empirical therapy is associated with lower mortality in patients with severe sepsis and septic shock. Intensive Care Med. 2014;40(1):32-40.

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