Antibiotic treatment for ventilated patients with pneumonia

Ventilators are machines that breathe for patients. The ventilator tube goes into the mouth and through the windpipe. Sometimes there are bacteria on the ventilator tube that infect the patient's lungs, leading to a disease called ventilator-associated pneumonia. Ventilator-associated pneumonia can cause significant harmful effects, and can sometimes lead to death. When treating people with ventilator-associated pneumonia, doctors must decide which antibiotic therapy to prescribe, usually without knowing the particular type of bacterial infection. This decision is important because inappropriate initial treatment may increase risk of harmful effects and longer hospital stays.

Search date
We searched for studies to December 2015.

Study characteristics
We looked at studies involving adults aged over 18 years who were treated in intensive care units for ventilator-associated pneumonia and needed antibiotic treatment. We analysed 12 studies with 3571 participants.

Key results
All included studies looked at the use of one antibiotic treatment plan versus another, but these varied among studies. There was potential for bias because some studies did not report outcomes for all participants, and funding for many was provided by pharmaceutical companies and study authors were affiliated with these companies.

We used statistical techniques to evaluate our results. For single versus multiple antibiotics, we found no difference in rates of death or cure, or adverse events. For our comparison of combination therapies with optional adjunctives we were only able to analyse clinical cure for one the antibiotics Tigecycline and imipenem-cilastatin for which imipenem-cilastatin was found to have higher clinica cure. We also looked at carbapenem (antibiotics used to treat infections caused by multidrug-resistant bacteria) versus non-carbapenem treatment; we found no difference in death rate or adverse effects, but we found that carbapenems are associated with an increase in clinical cure.

Quality of evidence We assessed evidence quality as moderate for most outcomes, and very low for clinical cure when single-antibiotic treatment was compared with multiple antibiotic therapy. We also found that evidence quality was low for adverse events when carbapenem was compared with non-carbapenem treatment.

We did not find differences between single and combination therapy, lending support to use of a single-antibiotic treatment plan for people with ventilator-associated pneumonia. This may not be applicable to all patients because studies did not identify patients who are at risk of exposure to harmful types of bacteria.

We could not evaluate the best single-antibiotic choice to treat people with ventilator-associated pneumonia because there were too few studies, but carbapenems may achieve better cure rates than other tested antibiotics.

Authors' conclusions: 

We did not find a difference between monotherapy and combination therapy for the treatment of people with VAP. Since studies did not identify patients with increased risk for multidrug-resistant bacteria, these data may not be generalisable to all patient groups. However, this is the largest meta-analysis comparing monotherapy to multiple antibiotic therapies for VAP and contributes further evidence to the safety of using effective monotherapy for the empiric treatment of VAP.

Due to lack of studies, we could not evaluate the best antibiotic choice for VAP, but carbapenems as a class may result in better clinical cure than other tested antibiotics.

Read the full abstract...

Ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality, complicating the medical course of approximately 10% of mechanically-ventilated patients, with an estimated attributable mortality of 13%. To treat VAP empirically, the American Thoracic Society currently recommends antibiotic therapy based on the patients' risk of colonisation by an organism with multidrug resistance. The selection of initial antibiotic therapy in VAP is important, as inappropriate initial antimicrobial treatment is associated with higher mortality and longer hospital stay in intensive care unit (ICU) patients.

While guidelines exist for the antibiotic treatment of hospital-acquired pneumonia (HAP) from the American Thoracic Society and the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, there are many limitations in the quality of available evidence. This systematic review aimed to summarise the results of all randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that compare empirical antibiotic regimens for VAP.


The primary objective of this review was to assess the effect of different empirical antimicrobial therapies on the survival and clinical cure of adult patients with ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP). Secondary objectives included reporting the incidence of adverse events, new superinfections, length of hospital stay, and length of intensive care unit (ICU) stay associated with these therapies.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, Embase, LILACS, CINAHL and Web of Science to December 2015; we searched to September 2016.

Selection criteria: 

Two review authors independently assessed RCTs comparing empirical antibiotic treatments of VAP in adult patients, where VAP was defined as new-onset pneumonia that developed more than 48 hours after endotracheal intubation. Physicians and researchers were not required to be blinded for inclusion in this review.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently extracted study data. We pooled studies and analysed them in two ways. We examined monotherapy, or a single experimental antimicrobial drug, versus combination therapy, or multiple experimental antimicrobial drugs. We also examined carbapenem therapy versus non-carbapenem therapy.

Main results: 

We included 12 studies with 3571 participants. All included studies examined the empiric use of one antimicrobial regimen versus another for the treatment of adults with VAP, but the particular drug regimens examined by each study varied. There was potential for bias because some studies did not report outcomes for all participants. All but one study reported sources of funding or author affiliations with pharmaceutical companies.

We found no statistical difference in all-cause mortality between monotherapy and combination therapy (N = 4; odds ratio (OR) monotherapy versus combination 0.97, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.73 to 1.30), clinical cure (N = 2; OR monotherapy versus combination 0.88, 95% CI 0.56 to 1.36), length of stay in ICU (mean difference (MD) 0.65, 95% CI 0.07 to 1.23) or adverse events (N = 2; OR monotherapy versus combination 0.93, 95% CI 0.68 to 1.26). We downgraded the quality of evidence for all-cause mortality, adverse events, and length of ICU stay to moderate for this comparison. We determined clinical cure for this comparison to be of very low-quality evidence.

For our second comparison of combination therapy with optional adjunctives only one meta-analysis could be performed due to a lack of trials comparing the same antibiotic regimens. Two studies compared tigecycline versus imipenem-cilastatin for clinical cure in the clinically evaluable population and there was a statistically significant increase in clinical cure for imipenem-cilastatin (N = 2; OR tigecycline versus imipenem-cilastatin 0.44, 95% CI 0.23 to 0.84). Of importance, this effect was due to a single study.

We found no statistical difference in all-cause mortality between carbapenem and non-carbapenem therapies (N = 1; OR carbapenem versus non-carbapenem 0.59, 95% CI 0.30 to 1.19) or adverse events (N = 3; OR carbapenem versus non-carbapenem 0.78, 95% CI 0.56 to 1.09), but we found that carbapenems are associated with a statistically significant increase in the clinical cure (N = 3; OR carbapenem versus non-carbapenem 1.53, 95% CI 1.11 to 2.12 for intention-to-treat (ITT) analysis and N = 2; OR carbapenem versus non-carbapenem 2.29, 95% CI 1.19 to 4.43 for clinically evaluable patients analysis). For this comparison we downgraded the quality of evidence for mortality, and clinical cure (ITT and clinically evaluable populations) to moderate. We determined the quality of evidence for adverse events to be low.