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Am J Surg. 1992 Oct;164(4A Suppl):44S-47S.

Current perspectives on antibiotic use in the treatment of surgical infections.

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Department of Surgery, University of Louisville School of Medicine, Kentucky 40292.


Infections that involve the attention of the surgeon include those that require operations for cure as well as those that complicate emergency and elective surgical procedures. Mechanical correction is of paramount importance in the eradication of such infections with antibiotics serving an adjuvant role, primarily to clear lymphatics and prevent bacteremia and seeding of distant sites. Review of the current hospital antibiotic susceptibility profile is important to determine likely sensitivity to expected pathogens. Infection of the urinary tract remains the most common nosocomial infection, but in surgical patients the severe infections are pneumonia, fasciitis, and peritonitis. Often caused by the gram-negative Enterobacteriaceae, empiric broad spectrum antibiotic therapy is initiated after cultures are obtained. Bacterial infection of the respiratory tract is often difficult to diagnose in severely ill patients because the underlying fever, leukocytosis, and chest X-ray changes are often nonspecific. Reliance on sputum gram stain and culture is important to guide antibiotic therapy. Empiric treatment of peritonitis requires knowledge of the normal enteric flora and the likely pathogenic organisms. The most lethal agent against obligate anaerobic organisms is atmospheric oxygen, yet antibiotic coverage against these organisms appears wise, particularly when debridement or resection will be delayed or not performed. Staphylococcus aureus is still the most commonly cultured organism from our Surgical Intensive Care Unit and Burn Unit and S. aureus is often responsible for central line and burn wound infection. For patients in septic shock, we favor administration of a broad-spectrum penicillin or cephalosporin combined with an aminoglycoside, with subsequent narrowing of the antibiotic spectrum based on culture results. Antibiotic efficacy, toxicity, efficiency, and cost all must be weighed in the decision-making process.

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