The risk for CDI was lower in the probiotic group (range 0%-11%) than in the control group (0%-40%), with no heterogeneity when the data from all 19 studies were pooled (relative risk [RR], 0.42). The median incidence of CDI in the control groups from all studies was 4%, which yielded a number needed to treat (NNT) of 43.
The researchers examined the NNT at varying incidence rates. If the CDI incidence was 1.2%, the NNT to prevent 1 case of CDI was 144; if the incidence was 7.4%, the NNT was 23. Compared with control groups, there was a significant reduction in CDI if probiotics were started within 1 to 2 days of antibiotic initiation (RR, 0.32), but not if they were started at 3 to 7 days (RR, 0.70). There was no significant difference in adverse events (ie, cramping, nausea, fever, soft stools, flatulence, taste disturbance) between probiotic and control groups (14% vs 16%).
Added benefit if probiotics taken sooner
This high-quality meta-analysis shows that administration of probiotics to hospitalized patients—particularly when started within 1 to 2 days of initiating antibiotic therapy—can prevent CDI.
Limited applicability, lack of recommendations
Findings from this meta-analysis do not apply to patients who are pregnant; who have an immunocompromising condition, a prosthetic heart valve, or a pre-existing gastrointestinal disorder (eg, irritable bowel disease, pancreatitis); or who require intensive care. In addition, specific recommendations as to the optimal probiotic species, dose, formulation, and duration of use cannot be made based on this meta-analysis. Lastly, findings from this study do not apply to patients treated with antibiotics in the ambulatory care setting.
CHALLENGES TO IMPLEMENTATION
Limited availability in hospitals
The largest barrier to giving probiotics to hospitalized adults is their availability on local hospital formularies. Probiotics are not technically a medication; they are not regulated or FDA-approved, and thus, insurance coverage and availability for inpatient use are limited. Lastly, US cost-effectiveness data are lacking, although such data would likely be favorable, given the high costs associated with treating CDI.
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