BACKGROUND: In critically ill patients, antibiotic therapy is of great importance but long duration of treatment is associated with the development of antimicrobial resistance. Procalcitonin is a marker used to guide antibacterial therapy and reduce its duration, but data about safety of this reduction are scarce. We assessed the efficacy and safety of procalcitonin-guided antibiotic treatment in patients in intensive care units (ICUs) in a health-care system with a comparatively low use of antibiotics.
METHODS: We did a prospective, multicentre, randomised, controlled, open-label intervention trial in 15 hospitals in the Netherlands. Critically ill patients aged at least 18 years, admitted to the ICU, and who received their first dose of antibiotics no longer than 24 h before inclusion in the study for an assumed or proven infection were eligible to participate. Patients who received antibiotics for presumed infection were randomly assigned (1:1), using a computer-generated list, and stratified (according to treatment centre, whether infection was acquired before or during ICU stay, and dependent on severity of infection [ie, sepsis, severe sepsis, or septic shock]) to receive either procalcitonin-guided or standard-of-care antibiotic discontinuation. Both patients and investigators were aware of group assignment. In the procalcitonin-guided group, a non-binding advice to discontinue antibiotics was provided if procalcitonin concentration had decreased by 80% or more of its peak value or to 0·5 μg/L or lower. In the standard-of-care group, patients were treated according to local antibiotic protocols. Primary endpoints were antibiotic daily defined doses and duration of antibiotic treatment. All analyses were done by intention to treat. Mortality analyses were completed for all patients (intention to treat) and for patients in whom antibiotics were stopped while being on the ICU (per-protocol analysis). Safety endpoints were reinstitution of antibiotics and recurrent inflammation measured by C-reactive protein concentrations and they were measured in the population adhering to the stopping rules (per-protocol analysis). The study is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT01139489, and was completed in August, 2014.
FINDINGS: Between Sept 18, 2009, and July 1, 2013, 1575 of the 4507 patients assessed for eligibility were randomly assigned to the procalcitonin-guided group (761) or to standard-of-care (785). In 538 patients (71%) in the procalcitonin-guided group antibiotics were discontinued in the ICU. Median consumption of antibiotics was 7·5 daily defined doses (IQR 4·0-12·7) in the procalcitonin-guided group versus 9·3 daily defined doses (5·0-16·6) in the standard-of-care group (between-group absolute difference 2·69, 95% CI 1·26-4·12, p<0·0001). Median duration of treatment was 5 days (3-9) in the procalcitonin-guided group and 7 days (4-11) in the standard-of-care group (between-group absolute difference 1·22, 0·65-1·78, p<0·0001). Mortality at 28 days was 149 (20%) of 761 patients in the procalcitonin-guided group and 196 (25%) of 785 patients in the standard-of-care group (between-group absolute difference 5·4%, 95% CI 1·2-9·5, p=0·0122) according to the intention-to-treat analysis, and 107 (20%) of 538 patients in the procalcitonin-guided group versus 121 (27%) of 457 patients in the standard-of-care group (between-group absolute difference 6·6%, 1·3-11·9, p=0·0154) in the per-protocol analysis. 1-year mortality in the per-protocol analysis was 191 (36%) of 538 patients in the procalcitonin-guided and 196 (43%) of 457 patients in the standard-of-care groups (between-group absolute difference 7·4, 1·3-13·8, p=0·0188).
INTERPRETATION: Procalcitonin guidance stimulates reduction of duration of treatment and daily defined doses in critically ill patients with a presumed bacterial infection. This reduction was associated with a significant decrease in mortality. Procalcitonin concentrations might help physicians in deciding whether or not the presumed infection is truly bacterial, leading to more adequate diagnosis and treatment, the cornerstones of antibiotic stewardship.
FUNDING: Thermo Fisher Scientific.