Aims: To evaluate the prevalence, incidence and clinical relevance of bacterial infection in predominantly non-alcoholic cirrhotic patients hospitalised for decompensation.
Patients/methods: A total of 405 consecutive admissions in 361 patients (249 males and 112 females; 66 Child-Pugh class B and 295 class C) were analysed. Blood, urine, ascitic and pleural fluid cultures were performed within the first 24 hours, during hospitalisation whenever infection was suspected, and again before discharge.
Results: Over a one year period, 150 (34%) bacterial infections (89 community- and 61 hospital-acquired) involving urinary tract (41%), ascites (23%), blood (21%) and respiratory tract (17%) were diagnosed. The prevalence of bacterial peritonitis was 12%. Infections were asymptomatic in 69 cases (46%) and 130 (87%) involved a single site. Enteric flora accounted for 62% of infections, Escherichia Coli being the most frequent pathogen (25%). Community-acquired infections were associated with more advanced liver disease (Child-Pugh mean score 10.2+/-2.1 versus 9.5+/-1.9, p<0.05), renal failure (p<0.05), and high white blood cell count (p<0.01). Hospital-acquired infections occurred more frequently in patients admitted for gastrointestinal bleeding (p<0.05). The in-hospital mortality was significantly higher in infected than in non-infected patients (15% versus 7%, p<0.05), and infection emerged as an independent variable affecting survival. Moreover bacterial infection accounted for a significantly prolonged hospital stay.
Conclusions: Bacterial infection, regardless of the aetiology, is a severe complication of decompensated cirrhosis, and, although frequently asymptomatic, accounts for both longer hospital stay and increased mortality.