Letters to the Editor

Local Antibiograms Can Reduce Inappropriate Antibiotic Prescribing


Am Fam Physician. 2012 May 15;85(10):948-950.

Original Article: Diagnosis and Treatment of Acute Pyelonephritis in Women

Issue Date: September 1, 2011

Available at: https://www.aafp.org/afp/2011/0901/p519.html

to the editor: As the infection control chair at a 25-bed critical access hospital, I read this article on pyelonephritis with interest. I am concerned about the message that primary care physicians might receive from your choice of wording in the abstract: “Practice guidelines recommend oral fluoroquinolones as initial outpatient therapy if the rate of fluoroquinolone resistance in the community is 10 percent or less. If the resistance rate exceeds 10 percent, an initial intravenous dose of ceftriaxone [Rocephin] or gentamicin should be given, followed by an oral fluoroquinolone regimen.” Although factually accurate, this statement may discourage busy physicians from consulting local antibiograms to ensure excellent treatment. It is counterproductive to mention a specific class of antibiotics when awareness of the local antibiogram is the first decision point in the process.

In our community, as in most, Escherichia coli makes up the majority of pathogens in healthy young women. Our resistance rates are nearly 25 percent for fluoroquinolones and 4 percent for cephalosporins. These rates are similar to those in many other communities in this country, and research is revealing escalating fluoroquinolone resistance.1,2 Less savvy prescribers often tell me they use fluoroquinolones because that is the recommendation, not reading the subsequent caveat. I suggest an alternative approach—emphasizing the importance of relying on local antibiogram patterns and allowing for appropriateness of multiple classes of drugs. Doing so would improve the quality of care by decreasing the likelihood of inappropriate prescribing and poor antibiotic stewardship.

Author disclosure: No relevant financial affiliations to disclose.


1. Boyd LB, Atmar RL, Randall GL, Hamill RJ, Steffen D, Zechiedrich L. Increased fluoroquinolone resistance with time in Escherichia coli from > 17,000 patients at a large county hospital as a function of culture site, age, sex, and location. BMC Infect Dis. 2008;8:4.

2. Johnson L, Sabel A, Burman WJ, et al. Emergence of fluoroquinolone resistance in outpatient urinary Escherichia coli isolates. Am J Med. 2008;121(10):876–884.

in reply: We are pleased that our article has stimulated interest in this topic, and agree that local antibiograms can reduce inappropriate antibiotic prescribing.

Dr. Lambke is concerned about the message physicians might receive from our choice of wording on prescribing antibiotics for the treatment of pyelonephritis. As he notes, this is faithful to the guidelines from the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA).1 We doubt that rephrasing would persuade a physician who is not focused on properly following this guideline to do otherwise. The IDSA guidelines do not offer an alternative approach for physicians who are too busy to check the local antibiogram, as recommended.

We believe that awareness of the local antibiogram is implicitly necessary to follow these guidelines. Unfortunately, the typical local antibiogram is from the local hospital and amalgamates all E. coli and other isolates, regardless of specimen type, host demographics, clinical syndrome, and patient location (e.g., intensive care unit, emergency department, inpatient ward, clinic). Because susceptibility patterns can vary considerably according to these factors, physicians need cumulative susceptibility data derived from the relevant patient population for optimal prescribing. Such data are rarely available, even to physicians who are motivated to incorporate them into their decision making.

Ultimately, we are responsible for our own prescribing habits. How journal articles or guidelines are written is unlikely to change behaviors unless the reader wishes to change.

Author disclosure: Drs. Colgan and Williams have no relevant financial affiliations to disclose. Dr. Johnson receives financial support from Merck, Inc., to perform molecular analysis of antibiotic-resistant Escherichia coli., and from Synitron for the development of a vaccine against E. coli. The research is not directly related to the topic of the original article or this letter reply, and this is not disqualifying.


1. Gupta K, Hooton TM, Naber KG, et al. International clinical practice guidelines for the treatment of acute uncomplicated cystitis and pyelonephritis in women: a 2010 update by the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the European Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases. Clin Infect Dis. 2011;52(5):e103–e120.

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This series is coordinated by Kenny Lin, MD, MPH, Associate Deputy Editor for AFP Online.



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