Objective: To evaluate antibiotic utilization and clinical outcomes among patients with clinically suspected ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) and culture-negative BAL (CNBAL).
Design: Prospective observational cohort study.
Setting: A medical ICU from a university-affiliated urban teaching hospital employing a previously described antibiotic discontinuation guideline for the management of VAP.
Patients: One hundred one patients with a clinical suspicion of VAP and CNBAL were evaluated between July 2002 and December 2004.
Interventions: Prospective patient follow-up and data collection. Antibiotic discontinuation was determined by the clinical guideline and not the results of BAL cultures.
Results: The average age of the patients was 60.4 +/- 17.9 years and the mean APACHE II score was 23.2 +/- 8.7 (+/- SD). The mean duration of mechanical ventilation prior to clinically suspected VAP was 2.9 +/- 1.9 days. Nineteen patients (18.8%) received antibiotics for other indications prior to BAL. Empiric antibiotic therapy for VAP was begun in 65 patients (64.4%) following BAL. The duration of empiric antibiotic treatment following BAL was 2.1 +/- 0.8 days. None of these patients received antibiotics for > 3 days (median, 2 days; range, 1 to 3 days). Six patients (5.9%) were treated with antibiotics for a secondary episode of VAP or hospital-acquired pneumonia developing at least 72 h after the CNBAL was performed and discontinuation of the empiric antibiotic therapy prescribed for the initially suspected episode of VAP. Overall, 35 patients (34.7%) died during hospitalization. Two deaths occurred in patients with a secondary episode of VAP following CNBAL and discontinuation of empiric antimicrobial therapy. Neither of these two deaths was attributed to VAP.
Conclusions: Although the decision to discontinue antibiotic treatment was based on clinical criteria and not BAL culture results, this study suggests that patients with a clinical suspicion of VAP and CNBAL can have empiric antimicrobial therapy safely discontinued within 72 h or in some cases withheld altogether. Prospective studies are needed to determine the safety of employing CNBAL as the primary criterion for the discontinuation of empirically begun antibiotic treatment for VAP.