NEJM: Antibiotics for pneumonia in H1N1

The New England Journal of Medicine has been running an open-access blog on H1N1 flu, and they’ve put up a post on when to give antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial pneumonia, including MRSA pneumonia, in flu patients.

There’s a table of key clinical points to consider, and these important points are made:

For the child or adult admitted to a hospital intensive care unit in respiratory distress, we believe that empirical initial therapy with broad-spectrum antibiotics to include coverage for MRSA, as well as Streptococcus pneumoniae and other common respiratory pathogens, is appropriate.
For the previously healthy child or adult with influenza who requires admission to a community hospital and has features that suggest a secondary pneumonia (Table 1), we would recommend empirical treatment with a drug such as intravenous second- or third-generation cephalosporin, after an effort has been made to prove the association with influenza and to get adequate lower respiratory tract specimens for Gram’s stain and bacterial culture.
If the Gram’s stain suggests the presence of staphylococci or if there is a rapidly progressive or necrotizing pneumonia, an additional antimicrobial agent to cover MRSA is appropriate. …
We do not believe that initial coverage for MRSA is indicated in all patients who are thought to have secondary bacterial pneumonia.

So, to recap:

  • Development of apparent pneumonia in the presence of flu should be met with antibiotics that will treat drug-sensitive bacteria, along with a test to show which bacteria are causing the illness.
  • If staph is present (or the pneumonia appears very serious), then the antibiotics should be upped to one that can control MRSA.
  • But if the pneumonia is serious enough to send a patient straight to the ICU, then drugs that can quell MRSA should be started right away.

For anyone concerned about pneumonia in the aftermath of H1N1, this is worth bookmarking.


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