Should we routinely use broad spectrum empiric antibiotic therapy in our diabetic patients with cellulitis of the lower extremities?

The short answer is “No”! The myth that diabetics with acute bacterial skin and skin structure infections should be routinely placed on antibiotics against gram-positives as well as gram-negatives and/or anaerobes probably originates from the extrapolation of data revolving around the frequent polymicrobial nature of diabetic foot infections.  These infections often originate from chronic ulcers and are complicated by deep tissue infection or gangrene (1), which is often not the case in our diabetic patients with cellulitis alone.  

In a recent study of the microbiology of cellulitis or cutaneous abscess in hospitalized patients, Staphylococcus and Streptococcus sp. accounted for 90% of cultured organisms in  diabetic patients, not significantly different than that of non-diabetics (1). This finding also supports national guidelines which do not recommend routine use of broader spectrum antibiotics in diabetics with cellulitis or cutaneous abscess (2).  This may be a good area to include in our antibiotic stewardship practices.

1. Jenkins TC, Knepper BC, Moore SJ, et al. Comparison of the microbiology and antibiotic treatment among diabetic and nondiabetic patients hospitalized for cellulitis or cutaneous abscess. J Hosp Med 2014;9:788-794.

2. Stevens DL, Bisno AL, Chambers HF, et al. Practice guidelines for the diagnosis and management of skin and soft tissue infections. Clin Infect Dis 2014;59:e10-e52.

Should we routinely use broad spectrum empiric antibiotic therapy in our diabetic patients with cellulitis of the lower extremities?

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