Stroke is the main cause of disability in high-income countries and ranks second as a cause of death worldwide. Infections occur frequently after stroke and may adversely affect outcome. Preventive antibiotic therapy in the acute phase of stroke may reduce the incidence of infections and improve outcome. In the previous version of this Cochrane Review, published in 2012, we found that antibiotics did reduce the risk of infection but did not reduce the number of dependent or deceased patients. However, included studies were small and heterogeneous. In 2015, two large clinical trials were published, warranting an update of this Review.
To assess the effectiveness and safety of preventive antibiotic therapy in people with ischaemic or haemorrhagic stroke. We wished to determine whether preventive antibiotic therapy in people with acute stroke:
• reduces the risk of a poor functional outcome (dependency and/or death) at follow-up;
• reduces the occurrence of infections in the acute phase of stroke;
• reduces the occurrence of elevated body temperature (temperature ≥ 38° C) in the acute phase of stroke;
• reduces length of hospital stay; or
• leads to an increased rate of serious adverse events, such as anaphylactic shock, skin rash, or colonisation with antibiotic-resistant micro-organisms.
We searched the Cochrane Stroke Group Trials Register (25 June 2017); the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL; 2017, Issue 5; 25 June 2017) in the Cochrane Library; MEDLINE Ovid (1950 to 11 May 2017), and Embase Ovid (1980 to 11 May 2017). In an effort to identify further published, unpublished, and ongoing trials, we searched trials and research registers, scanned reference lists, and contacted trial authors, colleagues, and researchers in the field.
Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of preventive antibiotic therapy versus control (placebo or open control) in people with acute ischaemic or haemorrhagic stroke.
Data collection and analysis
Two review authors independently selected articles and extracted data; we discussed and resolved discrepancies at a consensus meeting with a third review author. We contacted study authors to obtain missing data when required. An independent review author assessed risk of bias using the Cochrane 'Risk of bias' tool. We calculated risk ratios (RRs) for dichotomous outcomes, assessed heterogeneity amongst included studies, and performed subgroup analyses on study quality.
We included eight studies involving 4488 participants. Regarding quality of evidence, trials showed differences in study population, study design, type of antibiotic, and definition of infection; however, primary outcomes among the included studies were consistent. Mortality rate in the preventive antibiotic group was not significantly different from that in the control group (373/2208 (17%) vs 360/2214 (16%); RR 1.03, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.87 to 1.21; high-quality evidence). The number of participants with a poor functional outcome (death or dependency) in the preventive antibiotic therapy group was also not significantly different from that in the control group (1158/2168 (53%) vs 1182/2164 (55%); RR 0.99, 95% CI 0.89 to 1.10; moderate-quality evidence). However, preventive antibiotic therapy did significantly reduce the incidence of 'overall' infections in participants with acute stroke from 26% to 19% (408/2161 (19%) vs 558/2156 (26%); RR 0.71, 95% CI 0.58 to 0.88; high-quality evidence). This finding was highly significant for urinary tract infections (81/2131 (4%) vs 204/2126 (10%); RR 0.40, 95% CI 0.32 to 0.51; high-quality evidence), whereas no preventive effect for pneumonia was found (222/2131 (10%) vs 235/2126 (11%); RR 0.95, 95% CI 0.80 to 1.13; high-quality evidence). No major side effects of preventive antibiotic therapy were reported. Only two studies qualitatively assessed the occurrence of elevated body temperature; therefore, these results could not be pooled. Only one study reported length of hospital stay.
Preventive antibiotics had no effect on functional outcome or mortality, but significantly reduced the risk of 'overall' infections. This reduction was driven mainly by prevention of urinary tract infection; no effect for pneumonia was found.