A 68-year-old woman is admitted to the hospital with a diagnosis of community-acquired pneumonia. Should you add probiotics to her antibiotic regimen to prevent infection with Clostridium difficile?
Clostridium difficile infection (CDI) leads to significant morbidity, mortality, and treatment failures. In 2011, it culminated in a cost of $4.8 billion and 29,000 deaths.2,3 Risk factors for infection include antibiotic use, hospitalization, older age, and medical comorbidities.2 Probiotics have been proposed as one way to prevent CDI.
Several systematic reviews have demonstrated efficacy for probiotics in the prevention of CDI, although not all of them followed Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines or focused specifically on hospitalized patients, who are at increased risk.4-6 The largest high-quality randomized controlled trial (RCT) on the use of probiotics to prevent CDI, the PLACIDE trial, found no difference in CDI incidence between inpatients (ages 65 and older) who did and those who did not receive probiotics in addition to their oral or parenteral antibiotics; however, this trial had a lower incidence of CDI than was assumed in the power calculations.7 Guidelines from the American College of Gastroenterology and the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America do not include a recommendation for the use of probiotics in CDI prevention.8,9
Given the conflicting and poor-quality evidence and lack of recommendations, an additional systematic review and meta-analysis was performed, following PRISMA guidelines and focusing on studies conducted only in hospitalized adults.
Probiotics prevent CDI in this population
This meta-analysis of 19 RCTs evaluated the efficacy of probiotics for the prevention of CDI in 6261 hospitalized adults taking antibiotics. All patients were 18 or older (mean age, 68-69) and received antibiotics orally, intravenously, or via both routes, for any medical indication.
Trials were included if the intervention was for CDI prevention and if the probiotic strains used were Lactobacillus, Saccharomyces, Bifidobacterium, or Streptococcus (alone or in combination). Probiotic doses ranged from 4 billion to 900 billion colony-forming U/d and were started from 1 to 7 days after the first antibiotic dose. Duration of probiotic use was either fixed at 14 to 21 days or varied based on the duration of antibiotics (extending 3-14 d after the last antibiotic dose).
Control groups received matching placebo in all but 2 trials; those 2 used usual care of no probiotics as the control. Exclusion criteria included pregnancy, immunocompromise, intensive care, a prosthetic heart valve, and pre-existing gastrointestinal disorders.
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