Why are antibiotics routinely administered in patients with cirrhosis and upper gastrointestinal (GI) bleed?

Antibiotic prophylaxis in patients with cirrhosis and upper gastrointestinal bleed (UGIB) reduce bacterial infections, all-cause mortality, bacterial infection, mortality, rebleeding events and hospitalization.1

A 2011 Cochrane meta-analysis involving 12 trials comparing antibiotic prophylaxis to no prophylaxis or placebo found reduction in bacterial infection (RR 0.35, 95% C.I., 0.26-0.47) and overall mortality (RR 0.79, 95% C.I. 0.63-0.98). It also found a significant reduction in rebleeding and days of hospitalization, based on more limited data. Trials in this meta-analysis involved a variety of antibiotics, including norfloxacin, ciprofloxacin, cefazolin, cefotaxime, ceftriaxone and ampicillin-sulbactam. 1

So why is ceftriaxone the often-favored bacterial prophylaxis in UGIB? First, infections in cirrhotic patients often originate from bacterial translocation through the GI tract with aerobic gram-negative GI flora expected to be susceptible to ceftriaxone.2 Second, the emerging quinolone resistance among aerobic Gram-negative bacteria 2 and frequent use of ciprofloxacin for prophylaxis against spontaneous bacterial peritonitis have made use of ceftriaxone in this setting more desirable than quinolones.

Of note, a 2006 study involving patients with advanced cirrhosis (Child Pugh B or C) and GI hemorrhage receiving either norfloxacin or ceftriaxone for 7 days found a significantly lower risk of suspected or proven infections (11% vs 33%) and bacteremia or spontaneous bacterial peritonitis (2% vs 12%) in the ceftriaxone group; there was no difference in hospital mortality. 3 Although the overall prevalence of quinolone-resistant gram-negatives was unknown, 6 of 7 gram-negative bacilli isolated in the norfloxacin group were quinolone resistant.

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that 30-40% of cirrhotic patients presenting with UGIB will develop a bacterial infection within a week of their admission? 1

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  1. Chavez-Tapia NC, Barrientos-Gutierrez T, Tellez-Avila F, et al. Meta-analysis: antibiotic prophylaxis for cirrhotic patients with upper gastrointestinal bleeding-an updated Cochrane review. Aliment Pharmacol Ther 2011;34:509-518. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/j.1365-2036.2011.04746.x
  2. Mallet M, Rudler M, Thabut D. Variceal bleeding in cirrhotic patients. Gastroenterology Reports 2017;5:185-192. https://academic.oup.com/gastro/article/5/3/185/4002779
  3. Fernandez J, del Arbo LR, Gomez C, et al. Norfloxacin vs ceftriaxone in the prophylaxis of infections in patients with advanced cirrhosis and hemorrhage. Gastroenterology 2006;131:1049-1056. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0016508506015356


Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Catalyst, Harvard University, its affiliate academic healthcare centers, or its contributors. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!

Why are antibiotics routinely administered in patients with cirrhosis and upper gastrointestinal (GI) bleed?

What changes should I consider in my treatment of hospitalized patients with community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) in light of the 2019 guidelines of the American Thoracic society (ATS) and Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA)?

Compared to 2007,1 the 2019 ATS/IDSA guidelines2 propose changes in at least 4 major areas of CAP treatment in inpatients, with 2 “Do’s” and 2 “Dont’s”:

  • Do select empiric antibiotics based on severity of CAP and risk factors for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (see related pearl on P4P)
  • Do routinely treat CAP patients who test positive for influenza with standard CAP antibiotics
  • Don’t routinely provide anaerobic coverage in aspiration pneumonia (limit it to empyema and lung abscess) (see related pearl on P4P)
  • Don’t routinely treat CAP with adjunctive corticosteroids in the absence of refractory shock

β-lactam plus macrolide is recommended for both non-severe and severe CAP.  β-lactam plus respiratory fluoroquinolone is an alternative regime in severe CAP, though not endorsed as strongly as β-lactam plus macrolide therapy (low quality of evidence).  Management per CAP severity summarized below:

  • Non-severe CAP
    • β-lactam (eg, ceftriaxone, cefotaxime, ampicillin-sulbactam and newly-added ceftaroline) plus macrolide (eg, azithromycin, clarithromycin) OR respiratory fluoroquinolone (eg, levofloxacin, moxifloxacin)
    • In patients at risk of MRSA or P. aeruginosa infection (eg, prior isolation of respective pathogens, hospitalization and parenteral antibiotics in the last 90 days or locally validated risk factors—HCAP has been retired), obtain cultures/PCR
    • Hold off on MRSA or P. aeruginosa coverage unless culture/PCR results return positive.
  • Severe CAP
    • β-lactam plus macrolide OR β-lactam plus respiratory fluoroquinolone (see above)
    • In patients at risk of MRSA or P. aeruginosa infection (see above), obtain cultures/PCR
    • Add MRSA coverage (eg, vancomycin or linezolid) and/or P. aeruginosa coverage (eg, cefepime, ceftazidime, piperacillin-tazobactam, meropenem, imipenem) if deemed at risk (see above) while waiting for culture/PCR results

Duration of antibiotics is for a minimum of 5 days for commonly-targeted pathogens and a minimum of 7 days for MRSA or P. aeruginosa infections, irrespective of severity or rapidity in achieving clinical stability.

For patients who test positive for influenza and have CAP, standard antibacterial regimen should be routinely added to antiinfluenza treatment.

For patients suspected of aspiration pneumonia, anaerobic coverage (eg, clindamycin, ampicillin-sulbactam, piperacillin-tazobactam) is NOT routinely recommended in the absence of lung abscess or empyema.

Corticosteroids are NOT routinely recommended for non-severe (high quality of evidence) or severe (moderate quality of evidence) CAP in the absence of refractory septic shock.

Related pearls on P4P:

2019 CAP guidelines on diagnostics:                                        https://pearls4peers.com/2020/02/14/what-changes-should-i-consider-in-my-diagnostic-approach-to-hospitalized-patients-with-community-acquired-pneumonia-cap-in-light-of-the-2019-guidelines-of-the-american-thoracic-society-ats-and-inf/ 

Anerobic coverage of aspiration pneumonia: https://pearls4peers.com/2019/07/31/should-i-routinely-select-antibiotics-with-activity-against-anaerobes-in-my-patients-with-presumed-aspiration-pneumonia/


  1. Mandell LA, Wunderink RG, Anzueto A. Infectious Disease Society of America/American Thoracic Society Consensus Guidelines on the Management guidelines on the management of community-acquired pneumonia in adults. Clin Infect Dis 2007;44:S27-72. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17278083
  2. Metlay JP, Waterer GW, Long AC, et al. Diagnosis and treatment of adults with community-acquired pneumonia. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2019;200:e45-e67. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31573350


What changes should I consider in my treatment of hospitalized patients with community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) in light of the 2019 guidelines of the American Thoracic society (ATS) and Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA)?