Effect of antibiotic use on antimicrobial antibiotic resistance and late-onset neonatal infections over 25 years in an Australian tertiary neonatal unit

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Antibiotic resistance is a worldwide problem. We describe 25 years of responsible antibiotic use in a tertiary neonatal unit.


Data on neonatal infections and antibiotic use were collected prospectively from 1990 to 2014 at a single tertiary Sydney neonatal intensive care unit attached to a maternity unit. There are approximately 5500 deliveries and 900 nursery admissions per year.


The mean annual rate of late-onset sepsis was 1.64 episodes per 100 admissions. The mean number of late-onset sepsis episodes per admission to the neonatal unit decreased by 4.0% per year (95% CI 2.6% to 5.4%; p<0.0001) and occurred particularly in infants born weighing <1500 g. No infants with negative cultures relapsed with sepsis when antibiotics were stopped after 48–72 hours. Antibiotic use decreased with time. The proportion of colonising methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus isolates decreased by 7.4% per year (95% CI 0.2% to 14.1%; p=0.043). The proportion of colonising Gram-negative bacilli isolates resistant to either third-generation cephalosporins or gentamicin increased by 2.9% per year (95% CI 1.0% to 4.9%; p=0.0035). Most were cephalosporin-resistant; gentamicin resistance was rare. An average of one baby per year died from late-onset sepsis, the rate not varying significantly over time. The mortality from episodes of late-onset sepsis was 25 of 332 (7.5%).


Stopping antibiotics after 2–3 days if neonatal systemic cultures are negative is safe. However, it does not prevent the emergence of cephalosporin-resistant Gram-negative organisms.

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