“Antibiotic stewardship is never easy, and sometimes it is very difficult to differentiate what is going on with a patient in the clinical setting,” said Valerie M. Vaughn, MD, of the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, at SHM Converge, the annual conference of the Society of Hospital Medicine.
“We know from studies that 20% of hospitalized patients who receive an antibiotic have an adverse drug event from that antibiotic within 30 days,” said Dr. Vaughn.
Dr. Vaughn identified several practical ways in which hospitalists can reduce antibiotic overuse, including in the management of patients hospitalized with COVID-19.
Identify asymptomatic bacteriuria
One key area in which hospitalists can improve antibiotic stewardship is in recognizing asymptomatic bacteriuria and the harms associated with treatment, Dr. Vaughn said. For example, a common scenario for hospitalists might involve and 80-year-old woman with dementia, who can provide little in the way of history, and whose chest x-ray can’t rule out an underlying infection. This patient might have a positive urine culture, but no other signs of a urinary tract infection. “We know that asymptomatic bacteriuria is very common in hospitalized patients,” especially elderly women living in nursing home settings, she noted.
In cases of asymptomatic bacteriuria, data show that antibiotic treatment does not improve outcomes, and in fact may increase the risk of subsequent UTI, said Dr. Vaughn. Elderly patients also are at increased risk for developing antibiotic-related adverse events, especially Clostridioides difficile. Asymptomatic bacteriuria is any bacteria in the urine in the absence of signs or symptoms of a UTI, even if lab tests show pyuria, nitrates, and resistant bacteria. These lab results are often associated with inappropriate antibiotic use. “The laboratory tests can’t distinguish between asymptomatic bacteriuria and a UTI, only the symptoms can,” she emphasized.
Contain treatment of community-acquired pneumonia
Another practical point for reducing antibiotics in the hospital setting is to limit treatment of community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) to 5 days when possible. Duration matters because for many diseases, shorter durations of antibiotic treatments are just as effective as longer durations based on the latest evidence. “This is a change in dogma,” from previous thinking that patients must complete a full course, and that anything less might promote antibiotic resistance, she said.
“In fact, longer antibiotic durations kill off more healthy, normal flora, select for resistant pathogens, increase the risk of C. difficile, and increase the risk of side effects,” she said.
Ultimately, the right treatment duration for pneumonia depends on several factors including patient factors, disease, clinical stability, and rate of improvement. However, a good rule of thumb is that approximately 89% of CAP patients need only 5 days of antibiotics as long as they are afebrile for 48 hours and have 1 or fewer vital sign abnormalities by day 5 of treatment. “We do need to prescribe longer durations for patients with complications,” she emphasized.
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