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


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