Should I routinely select antibiotics with activity against anaerobes in my patients with presumed aspiration pneumonia?

Anaerobes have been considered a major cause of aspiration pneumonia (AP) based on studies published in 1970’s (1-3). More recent data, however, suggest that anaerobes no longer play an important role in most cases of AP (4-7) and routine inclusion of specific anti-anaerobic drugs in their treatment is no longer necessary.

 
An important reason for anaerobes not playing an important role in AP in the current era is the change in the demographics of patients who may be affected. Patients reported in older studies often suffered from alcohol use disorder, drug ingestion, seizure disorders and acute cerebrovascular accident. In contrast, more recent data show that AP often occurs in nursing home residents, the elderly with cognitive impairment, and those with dysphagia, gastrointestinal dysmotility or tube feeding (8,9).

 
In addition, many cases of AP reported in older studies involved delay of 4 or more days before seeking medical attention and, not surprisingly, often presented with lung abscess, necrotizing pneumonia, empyema, or putrid sputum, features that are relatively rare in the current era.

 
Further supporting the diminishing role of anaerobes in AP, are recent microbiological studies of the respiratory tract in AP revealing the infrequent isolation of anaerobes and, even when isolated, often coexisting with aerobic bacteria. The latter observation is important because, due to the alteration in the redox potential (9,10), treatment of aerobic bacteria alone may lead to less oxygenation consumption and less favorable environment for survival of anaerobes in the respiratory tract.

 
We should also always consider the potential adverse effects of unnecessary antibiotics with anaerobic activity in our frequently debilitated patients, including gastrointestinal dysbiosis (associated with Clostridiodes difficile infections and overgrowth of antibiotic-resistant pathogens such as vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE), hypersensitivity reactions, drug interactions, and central nervous system toxicity (11,12).

 
Thus, the weight of the evidence does not justify routine anaerobic coverage of AP in today’s patients.

 

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References
1. Bartlett JG, Gorbach SL, Finegold SM. The bacteriology of aspiration pneumonia. Am J Med. 1974;56(2):202-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4812076
2. Bartlett JG, Finegold SM. Anaerobic pleuropulmonary infections. Medicine (Baltimore). 1972;51(6):413-50. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4564416
3. Bartlett JG, Gorbach SL. The triple threat of aspiration pneumonia. Chest. 1975;68(4):560-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1175415
4. Finegold SM. Aspiration pneumonia. Rev Infect Dis. 1991;13 Suppl 9:S737-42. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1925318
5. Bartlett JG. How important are anaerobic bacteria in aspiration pneumonia: when should they be treated and what is optimal therapy. Infect Dis Clin North Am. 2013;27(1):149-55. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23398871
6. El-Solh AA, Pietrantoni C, Bhat A, Aquilina AT, Okada M, Grover V, et al. Microbiology of severe aspiration pneumonia in institutionalized elderly. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2003;167(12):1650-4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12689848
7. Marik PE, Careau P. The role of anaerobes in patients with ventilator-associated pneumonia and aspiration pneumonia: a prospective study. Chest. 1999;115(1):178-83. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9925081
8. Bowerman TJ, Zhang J, Waite LM. Antibacterial treatment of aspiration pneumonia in older people: a systematic review. Clin Interv Aging. 2018;13:2201-13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30464429
9. Mandell LA, Niederman MS. Aspiration Pneumonia. N Engl J Med. 2019 Feb 14;380(7):651-663. doi: 10.1056/NEJMra1714562. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30763196
10. Walden, W. C., & Hentges, D. J. (1975). Differential effects of oxygen and oxidation-reduction potential on the multiplication of three species of anaerobic intestinal bacteria. Applied microbiology, 30(5), 781–785. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC187272/
11. Sullivan A, Edlund C, Nord CE. Effect of antimicrobial agents on the ecological balance of human microflora. Lancet Infect Dis. 2001;1(2):101-14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11871461
12. Bhalla A, Pultz NJ, Ray AJ, Hoyen CK, Eckstein EC, Donskey CJ. Antianaerobic antibiotic therapy promotes overgrowth of antibiotic-resistant, gram-negative bacilli and vancomycin-resistant enterococci in the stool of colonized patients. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol. 2003;24(9):644-9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14510245

 

Contributed by Amar Vedamurthy, MD, MPH, Mass General Hospital, Boston, MA

Should I routinely select antibiotics with activity against anaerobes in my patients with presumed aspiration pneumonia?

When evaluating for an esophageal perforation, is a water-soluble contrast agent such as Gastrografin a better and safer alternative to barium swallow study?

Water-soluble contrast agents (WCAs) (eg, meglumine diatrizoate or Gastrografin) are often ordered as the initial radiographic test for evaluation of esophageal perforation or leaks, followed by barium swallow if the test is negative because small leaks are better detected with the more radiopaque barium1.  Such practice, however, is based on extrapolation of data on the deleterious effect of barium when extravasated into the peritoneal cavity, not the mediastinum1.   In fact, clinical evidence linking mediastinitis to extravasated barium is lacking, and even in experimental studies, injection of barium into the mediastinum of cats have failed to cause clinically significant mediastinitis2.

When ordering a contrast swallow study, no medium should be considered totally safe or effective in detecting esophageal perforations or leaks and WCAs are no different. Potential disadvantages of WCAs include: 1. Inferior sensitivity (as low as 50%)—due to decreased radio-opacity—when compared to barium3; 2. Risk of pulmonary edema—occasionally lethal— when aspirated into the lung due to high osmolality (analogous to salt water drowning) and intense inflammatory reaction4,5; 3. Contraindication in the setting of tracheoesophageal fistula,6; 4. Risk of serious allergic reaction due to reabsorption of iodinated compounds1; and 5. Added exposure to radiation and cost of testing when the swallow study is repeated with barium.  For these reasons, the standard practice of an initial WCA followed by a barium swallow`study if the former is negative, has been questioned, with some centers foregoing the WCA study altogether in favor of barium swallow in certain patients 1,6.

In short, when evaluating for esophageal perforation, WCAs should not categorically be considered a “better” or “safer” alternative to barium; in certain situations, barium may be the preferred agent. When in doubt, input from a thoracic surgeon is recommended.  

 

References

  1. Gollub MJ, Bains MS. Barium sulfate: a new (old) contrast agent for diagnosis of postoperative esophageal leaks. Radiology 1997;202:360-62. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9015057
  2. James AE, Montali RJ, Chaffee V, et al. Barium or gastrografin: which contrast media for diagnosis of esophageal tears? Gastroenterology 1975;68:1103-1113. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1126592
  3. Berry BE, Ochsner JL. Perforation of the esophagus: a 30 year review. J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg 1973;65:1-7. http://www.jpedsurg.org/article/0022-3468(73)90248-0/abstract
  4. Trulzsch DV, PenmetsaA, Karim A, et al. Gastrografin-induced aspiration pneumonia: A lethal complication of computed tomography. South Med J 1992;85:1255-56. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1470976
  5. Tuladhar R, Patole S, Whitehall J. Gastrografin aspiration in a neonate with tracheoesophageal fistula. J Paediatr Child Health 2000; 36:94-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10723703
  6. FDA https://www.drugs.com/pro/gastrografin.html.
  7. Roh S, Iannettoni MD, Keech JC, et al. Role of barium swallow in diagnosing clinically significant anastomotic leak following esophagectomy. Korean J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg 2016;49:99-109. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4825910/pdf/kjtcv-49-099.pdf

 

When evaluating for an esophageal perforation, is a water-soluble contrast agent such as Gastrografin a better and safer alternative to barium swallow study?