Procalcitonin-guided algorithms of antibiotic therapy in the intensive care unit: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials

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There is increasing interest for strategies that could curtail antibiotic resistance in the critical care setting. We sought to determine the effectiveness and safety of procalcitonin-guided algorithms in the management of septic patients in the intensive care unit.

Data Sources:

MEDLINE, Scopus, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (through April 2010), reference lists of retrieved publications, and queries of corresponding authors. No language restrictions were applied.

Study Selection:

We included only randomized controlled studies reporting on antibiotic use and clinical outcomes of intensive care unit patients managed with a procalcitonin-guided algorithm or according to routine practice.

Data Extraction:

Data on study characteristics, interventions, and outcomes were retrieved by two independent reviewers. Pooled odds ratios, weighted mean differences, and 95% confidence intervals were calculated by implementing both the Mantel-Haenszel fixed effect model and the DerSimonian-Laird random effects model.

Data Synthesis:

Seven randomized controlled studies involving 1131 intensive care unit patients (adults = 1010; neonates = 121) were included. In comparison with routine practice, the implementation of procalcitonin-guided algorithms decreased the duration of antibiotic therapy for the first episode of infection by approximately 2 days (weighted mean difference = −2.36 days; 95% confidence interval, −3.11 to −1.61) and the total duration of antibiotic treatment by 4 days (fixed effect model: weighted mean difference: −4.19 days; 95% confidence interval, −4.98 to −3.39). The comparison between the procalcitonin and the routine practice group was not associated with any apparent adverse clinical outcome: 28-day mortality (fixed effect model: odds ratio = 0.93; 95% confidence interval, 0.69 to 1.26), intensive care unit length of stay (fixed effect model: pooled weighted mean difference = −0.49 days, 95% confidence interval, −1.55 to 0.57), and relapsed/persistent infection rate (fixed effect model: odds ratio = 0.97; 95% confidence interval, 0.56 to 1.69).


The implementation of a procalcitonin-based algorithm may reduce antibiotic exposure in critically ill, septic patients without compromising clinical outcomes, but further research is necessary before the wide adoption of this strategy.

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