Prehospital Antibiotic Prophylaxis for Open Fractures: Practicality and Safety

Prehosp Emerg Care. May-Jun 2019;23(3):385-388. doi: 10.1080/10903127.2018.1514089. Epub 2018 Sep 14.


Objective: Early antibiotic administration has been associated with a significant decrease in infection following open fractures. However, antibiotics are most effective at a time when many patients are still being transported for care. There is limited evidence that antibiotics may be safely administered for open fractures when being transported by life-flight personnel. No such data exists for ground ambulance transport of patients with open fractures. The purpose of the study was to assess the safety and feasibility of prophylactic antibiotic delivery in the prehospital setting.

Methods: We performed a prospective observational study between January 1, 2014 and May 31, 2015 of all trauma patients transferred to a level 1 trauma center by a single affiliated ground ambulance transport service. If open fracture was suspected, the patient was indicated for antibiotic prophylaxis with 2 g IV Cefazolin. Exclusion criteria included penicillin allergy, higher priority patient care tasks, and remaining transport time insufficient for administration of antibiotics. The administration of antibiotics was recorded. Patient demographics, associated injuries, priority level (1 = life threatening injury, 2 = potentially life threatening injury, 3 = non-life threatening injury), and timing of transport and antibiotic administration were recorded as well.

Results: EMTs identified 70 patients during the study period with suspected open fractures. Eight reported penicillin allergy and were not eligible for prophylaxis. The patient's clinical status and transport time allowed for administration of antibiotic prophylaxis for 32 patients (51.6%). Total prehospital time was the only variable assessed that had a significant impact on administration of prehospital antibiotics (<30 minutes = 29% vs. >30 minutes = 66%; p < 0.001). There were no allergic reactions among patients and no needle sticks or other injuries to EMT personnel related to antibiotic administration.

Conclusions: EMT personnel were able to administer prehospital antibiotic prophylaxis for a substantial portion of the identified patients without any complications for patients or providers. Given the limited training provided to EMTs prior to implementation of the antibiotic prophylaxis protocol, it is likely that further development of this initial training will lead to even higher rates of prehospital antibiotic administration for open fractures.

Keywords: antibiotic prophylaxis; open fractures; practicality; prehospital; safety.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Antibiotic Prophylaxis*
  • Emergency Medical Services*
  • Fractures, Open / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Infection Control*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Patient Safety
  • Prospective Studies


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents