Empirical Anti-MRSA vs Standard Antibiotic Therapy and Risk of 30-Day Mortality in Patients Hospitalized for Pneumonia

JAMA Intern Med. 2020 Apr 1;180(4):552-560. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.7495.


Importance: Use of empirical broad-spectrum antibiotics for pneumonia has increased owing to concern for resistant organisms, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The association of empirical anti-MRSA therapy with outcomes among patients with pneumonia is unknown, even for high-risk patients.

Objective: To compare 30-day mortality among patients hospitalized for pneumonia receiving empirical anti-MRSA therapy vs standard empirical antibiotic regimens.

Design, setting, and participants: Retrospective multicenter cohort study was conducted of all hospitalizations in which patients received either anti-MRSA or standard therapy for community-onset pneumonia in the Veterans Health Administration health care system from January 1, 2008, to December 31, 2013. Subgroups of patients analyzed were those with initial intensive care unit admission, MRSA risk factors, positive results of a MRSA surveillance test, and positive results of a MRSA admission culture. Primary analysis was an inverse probability of treatment-weighted propensity score analysis using generalized estimating equation regression; secondary analyses included an instrumental variable analysis. Statistical analysis was conducted from June 14 to November 20, 2019.

Exposures: Empirical anti-MRSA therapy plus standard pneumonia therapy vs standard therapy alone within the first day of hospitalization.

Main outcomes and measures: Risk of 30-day all-cause mortality after adjustment for patient comorbidities, vital signs, and laboratory results. Secondary outcomes included the development of kidney injury and secondary infections with Clostridioides difficile, vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus species, or gram-negative bacilli.

Results: Among 88 605 hospitalized patients (86 851 men; median age, 70 years [interquartile range, 62-81 years]), empirical anti-MRSA therapy was administered to 33 632 (38%); 8929 patients (10%) died within 30 days. Compared with standard therapy alone, in weighted propensity score analysis, empirical anti-MRSA therapy plus standard therapy was significantly associated with an increased adjusted risk of death (adjusted risk ratio [aRR], 1.4 [95% CI, 1.3-1.5]), kidney injury (aRR, 1.4 [95% CI, 1.3-1.5]), and secondary C difficile infections (aRR, 1.6 [95% CI, 1.3-1.9]), vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus spp infections (aRR, 1.6 [95% CI, 1.0-2.3]), and secondary gram-negative rod infections (aRR, 1.5 [95% CI, 1.2-1.8]). Similar associations between anti-MRSA therapy use and 30-day mortality were found by instrumental variable analysis (aRR, 1.6 [95% CI, 1.4-1.9]) and among patients admitted to the intensive care unit (aRR, 1.3 [95% CI, 1.2-1.5]), those with a high risk for MRSA (aRR, 1.2 [95% CI, 1.1-1.4]), and those with MRSA detected on surveillance testing (aRR, 1.6 [95% CI, 1.3-1.9]). No significant favorable association was found between empirical anti-MRSA therapy and death among patients with MRSA detected on culture (aRR, 1.1 [95% CI, 0.8-1.4]).

Conclusions and relevance: This study suggests that empirical anti-MRSA therapy was not associated with reduced mortality for any group of patients hospitalized for pneumonia. These results contribute to a growing body of evidence that questions the value of empirical use of anti-MRSA therapy using existing risk approaches.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Hospital Mortality*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus
  • Middle Aged
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / drug therapy*
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / microbiology
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / mortality*
  • Pneumonia, Staphylococcal / microbiology
  • Pneumonia, Staphylococcal / mortality*
  • Pneumonia, Staphylococcal / prevention & control*
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents