Objective: To identify the organisms, their antibiotic susceptibility, and the associated focus on infection causing nosocomial bacteremia in patients in an adult intensive care unit (ICU) between 1971 and 1995.
Design: Prospective observational study.
Setting: A 12-bed general adult ICU in a 1,000-bed tertiary referral teaching hospital.
Patients: Four hundred eighty-six episodes of bacteremia involving 570 organisms in 425 patients.
Measurements and main results: Blood cultures taken from patients with suspected nosocomial infection were analyzed. Isolated organisms were identified, and their susceptibility to commonly used antibiotics was determined. Clinical details, including antibiotic treatment, were recorded for all patients. From 1986 to 1995, culture results of samples obtained from other sites were used to help identify the focus of infection causing bacteremia. All results were collected prospectively by clinical microbiologists. Between 1971 and 1990, the number of bacteremias and the relative frequency of isolation of individual organisms changed little, with Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Escherichia coli, and Klebsiella species predominating. During 1991 to 1995, the number of bacteremias increased two-fold, largely attributable to increased isolation of Enterococcus species, coagulase-negative staphylococci, intrinsically antibiotic-resistant gram-negative organisms (particularly P. aeruginosa), and Candida species. The most commonly used antibiotics for the treatment of bacteremic patients throughout the 1970s were amoxicillin and gentamicin. After the introduction of cephalosporins in the early 1980s, their use increased progressively to equal that of gentamicin in the 1990s, whereas amoxicillin use decreased. Since the introduction of cephalosporins, increases in the antibiotic resistance of gram-negative organisms have been largely confined to an outbreak of gentamicin- and ceftazidime-resistant organisms caused by contaminated arterial pressure monitors during 1992 and 1993 and a two-fold increase in ceftazidime resistance of the Pseudomonas species. Gentamicin resistance of gram-negative aerobes remained unchanged (excluding the arterial pressure monitor outbreak), despite gentamicin being one of the most frequently prescribed antibiotics throughout the 25-yr period. Between 1986 and 1995, two thirds of all bacteremic organisms were cultured from intravascular catheters, which were designated as the focus of infection, 7% were secondary to gastrointestinal pathology, but only approximately 3% were secondary to wound, respiratory tract, or urinary tract infections.
Conclusions: Bacteremias have become more frequent in the ICU, probably because of the increased use of intravascular catheters, which are the most frequent foci for bacteremic infection. The spectrum of organisms has changed, and this can be temporally related to the changes in the antibiotics prescribed. Gentamicin resistance of gram-negative organisms has not increased during a 25-yr period, despite being one of the most frequently prescribed antibiotics in the ICU.