BACKGROUND: In this national multicentre study, we examined the safety of reducing antibiotics in selected paediatric cancer patients with febrile neutropenia.
METHODS: Patients with signs of a bacterial infection and/or abnormal vital signs indicating sepsis were considered high risk and received antibiotic therapy. Remaining patients were allocated to low- or medium risk, depending on their interleukin-8 level. Low-risk patients did not receive any antibiotics and were discharged from the hospital after having been afebrile for 12 h. Medium-risk patients were re-evaluated after 72 h of antibiotic treatment and, in selected patients, antibiotics were stopped.
RESULTS: Two hundred thirty-three febrile neutropenic episodes in 141 paediatric cancer patients were included in the study. Sixty-four episodes were classified high risk (28%), 122 medium risk (52%), and 47 (20%) low risk. In the medium-risk group, antibiotics were stopped after 72 h in 50 in 122 episodes (41%). Median duration of antibiotic treatment and hospital admission was significantly lower in low- and medium-risk episodes with early discharge. No failures were observed in the medium-risk group with early discharge. In the low-risk group, six failures were observed (12.8%), due to coagulase-negative staphylococci-positive blood cultures and recurrent fever.
CONCLUSION: We showed that it is safe to shorten antibiotic treatment to 72 h in selected medium-risk patients with febrile neutropenia, regardless of the neutrophil count. The safety of withholding antibiotics in selected low-risk paediatric cancer patients with febrile neutropenia requires further investigation, using more suitable definitions for safety. Reduction in hospital admissions allows children with cancer more time at home and consequently improves their quality of life.