Should I order serum procalcitonin on my patient with suspected infection?

Two things to ask before you order procalcitonin (PCT): 1. Will it impact patient management?; and 2. If so, will the result be available in a timely manner ie, within hours not days?

Whatever the result, PCT should always be interpreted in the context of the patient’s illness and other objective data. Not surprisingly then, as a “screening” test, PCT may be more useful in patients with low pre-test likelihood of having bacterial infection, not dissimilar to the use of D-dimer in patients with low pre-test probability of pulmonary embolism1.  

Several potential clinical uses of this biomarker have emerged in recent years,  including:1,2

  • Helping decide when to initiate antibiotics in patients with upper acute respiratory tract infections and bronchitis. A normal or low PCT supports viral infection.
  • Helping decide when to discontinue antibiotics (ie, when PCT normalizes) in community-acquired or ventilator-associated pneumonia.
  • Helping monitor patient progress with an expected drop in PCT of about 50% per day (half-life ~ 24 hrs) with effective therapy.

Few caveats…

  • PCT may be unremarkable in about a third of patients with bacteremia (especially due to less virulent bacteria, including many gram-positives)3.  
  • PCT levels are lowered by high-flux membrane hemodialysis, so check a baseline level before, not after, hemodialysis4.
  • Lastly, despite its higher specificity for bacterial infections compared to other biomarkers such as C-reactive protein, PCT may be elevated in a variety of non-infectious conditions, including pancreatitis, burns, pulmonary edema or aspiration, mesenteric infarction (ischemic bowel), cardiogenic shock, and hypotension during surgery2.

 

References:

  1. Schuetz P, Muller B, Chirst-Crain M, et al. Procalcitonin to initiate or discontinue antibiotics in acute respiratory tract infections (review). Evid-Based Child Health (A Cochrane Review Journal) 2013;8:4;1297-137. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ebch.1927/pdf
  2. Gilbert GN. Use of plasma procalcitonin levels as an adjunct to clinical microbiology. J Clin Microbiol 2010;48:2325-29. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2897488/pdf/0655-10.pdf
  3. Yan ST, Sun LC, Jia HB. Procalcitonin levels in bloodstream infections caused by different sources and species of bacteria. Am J Emerg Med 2017;35:779-83. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/27979420/#fft
  4. Grace E, Turner RM. Use of procalcitonin in patients with various degrees of chronic kidney disease including renal replacement therapy. Clin Infect Dis 2014;59:1761-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25228701
Should I order serum procalcitonin on my patient with suspected infection?

2 thoughts on “Should I order serum procalcitonin on my patient with suspected infection?

  1. Bugs Under Stress says:

    Here is the blog for procalcitonin guided antibiotic therapy. How useful is this procalcitonin in patient sample are analysed in various studies and recently one metadata analysis of 26 RCTs is published in LancetID. It might help to understand the the use of PCT in distinguishing viral and bacterial infection. https://bugsunderstressblog.wordpress.com/2017/10/16/effectiveness-of-procalcitonin-guided-antibiotic-treatment-in-acute-respiratory-infections/

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