Virulent infections caused by alpha-haemolytic streptococci in cancer patients and their management

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Streptococci of the viridans group have long been considered to be minor pathogens, except in bacterial endocarditis. For some years, however, these microorganisms have been the cause of serious bacteraemia in neutropenic patients receiving intensive chemotherapy. These infections can lead to severe complications such as endocarditis, respiratory distress syndromes or shock, and are associated with a mortality rate ranging from 6-30%. The principal risk factors for these infections are profound neutropenia, antibiotic prophylaxis with quinolones or cotrimoxazole, large doses of cytosine arabinoside, a recent history of chemotherapy, oropharyngeal mucositis and viridans streptococcal colonization. Protective factors are the early administration of parenteral antibiotics during periods of neutropenia, or the prophylactic administration of penicillin. Although the introduction of penicillin to prophylactic antibiotic regimens has led to a decrease in the incidence of these infections, the emergence of strains resistant to beta-lactams is a worrying problem which could compromise this type of treatment.

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