What is the clinical relevance of “SPICE” organisms?

“SPICE” often stands for the following bacterial species: Serratia spp, Providencia spp, indole-positive Proteae (e.g. Proteus spp. [not mirabilis], Morganella spp., Providencia spp.), Citrobacter spp., and Enterobacter spp.  Some have also included Pseudomonas spp (“P”).

These organisms (as well as Acinetobacter spp., at times “A” in SP”A”CE organisms) often have inducible chromosomal AmpC ß-lactamase genes that may be derepressed during therapy, conferring in vivo ß-lactam resistance despite apparent sensitivity in vitro (1,2). Because AmpC genes in clinical isolates are not routinely screened for in the laboratory, the following treatment approach to these organisms is often adopted (1).

Third generation cephalosporins (e.g. ceftriaxone and ceftazidime) are usually avoided irrespective of in vitro susceptibility. For less serious infections (e.g. urinary tract infections) or severe infections in carefully monitored clinically stable patients, piperacillin-tazobactam and cefepime in particular may be used due to their lower risk of induced resistance. For severe infections (e.g. pneumonia and bacteremia) in seriously ill patients, carbapenems (e.g. meropenem, imipenem-cilastatin) are often the drugs of choice. 

A small retrospective study of patients with infection due to SPICE organisms (about 50% with bacteremia) found cefepime to be as effective as meropenem, but cautioned its use when adequate source control has not been achieved (3). Fluroroquinolones and aminoglycosides may also be considered.


  1. MacDougall C. Beyond susceptible and resistant, part I: treatment of infections due to Gram-negative organisms with inducible ß-lactamases. J Pediatr Pharmacol Ther 2011;16:23-30. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3136230/
  2. Jacoby GA. AmpC ß-lactamases. Clin Microbiol Rev 2009;22:161-182. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2620637/
  3. Tamma PD, Girdwood SCT, Gopaul R, et al. The use of cefepime for treating AmpC ß-lactamase-producing Enterobacteriaceae. Clin Infect Dis 2013;57:781-8. https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/57/6/781/330020

Contributed in part by Avi Geller, Medical Student, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA


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What is the clinical relevance of “SPICE” organisms?

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