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Infections are among the leading causes of neonatal mortality, and about 75% of the burden occurs in developing countries. Diagnosis of neonatal sepsis in these countries is dependent on the recognition of a set of nonspecific clinical signs that maximize sensitivity because staff making initial assessments may not have specialist pediatric training. Accurate diagnosis is usually limited by the unavailability of reliable microbiological investigation. The World Health Organization recommends ampicillin (or penicillin; cloxacillin if staphylococcal infection is suspected) plus gentamicin for empiric treatment of neonates with suspected clinical sepsis or meningitis. However, there is a lack of comprehensive data on the causes of infection and antimicrobial susceptibility in developing countries to support these recommendations, especially in rural settings. Bacterial pathogens (predominantly Gram negative) with reduced susceptibility to empiric medication have been reported, with variations both between and within regions. Nosocomial infections with resistant organisms and high case fatality challenge the first-line use of cephalosporins. Improving local surveillance data using standardized antimicrobial susceptibility testing methods and validation of diagnostic algorithms against microbial findings are essential. Standardized reporting of treatment outcomes is required to evaluate practice, provide guidance on second-line regimes and for studies of new approaches, such as simplified community-based regimens, and to determine the appropriate duration of empiric treatment for apparently low-risk neonates with early resolution of clinical signs, or where available, negative blood cultures. Thus, a multifaceted approach, with attention to microbiological quality assurance, is needed to better guide antimicrobial use and reduce mortality and long-term impairments.