In the current study we assessed the ability of the biomarkers PCT, MR-proADM and CRP in predicting treatment failure in a randomized trial of antibiotic treatment duration (i.e. 7 versus 14 days) in patients with febrile urinary tract infection. We hypothesized that the biomarker signature, as an objective laboratory proxy of physical status in fUTI, would help the physician in guiding the length of antibiotic therapy. In our study, however, neither PCT nor MR-proADM or CRP were distinctive in identifying upfront those patients at risk for a treatment failure, i.e. who might benefit from a more prolonged antibiotic treatment.
Overall treatment success was high: 94% of the randomized 165 and 88% of 84 non-randomized patients who all were given an identical follow-up reached the endpoint of clinical cure. Of the biomarkers, PCT and MR-proADM were significantly correlated to clinical parameters such as fever, blood pressure and subjective complaints that represent the acute febrile illness of invasive urinary tract infection. Also, the biomarker signature of PCT and MR-proADM correlated with severity of disease, such as presence of bacteraemia and need for initial administration of antibiotics intravenously rather than orally. Finally, the course of biomarkers over the first three days correlated with signs of clinical recovery, such as time to defervescence, intensity of subjective complaints and length of hospital stay. As opposed to PCT and MR-proADM, the currently popular biomarker CRP did not display any correlation to relevant clinical parameters like course of fever or bacteraemia.
The biomarkers we chose are in current use as predictors of morbidity and mortality in a variety of conditions. Procalcitonin is a precursor hormone of calcitonin and is upregulated by cytokines released in response to bacterial infection . MR-proADM has been detected in a variety of tissues, including heart, vessels and the kidneys and has both immune modulating and vasodilating properties . Levels of MR-proADM are elevated in sepsis, contributing to hypotension in these patients. Thus, procalcitonin has shown to be a marker of bacteraemia in patients with febrile UTI [12,13,14], whereas mid-regional proadrenomedullin (MR-proADM) is a predictor of a complicated course of disease, the need for ICU admission, and mortality [6, 7].
PCT-based algorithms have been developed to aid decisions on the initiation and/or discontinuation of antibiotics in patients with acute respiratory tract infections and in critically ill patients admitted to the intensive care ward . In these specific patient groups, the use of PCT has been shown to be a powerful tool in antibiotic stewardship . Although in the intensive care studies patients with infections originating from the urinary tract were included, numbers were small (e.g. 7% of patients in the PRORATA trial, 3% of patients in the SAPS trial) and these results cannot directly be extrapolated to patients with community-acquired urinary tract infections [4, 17].
Elevation of these biomarkers is a reflection of the systemic inflammatory response to bacterial invasion. This inflammatory response coincides with acute illness, and often in a measurable deviation of vital signs, such as a raised temperature and decreased blood pressure. In daily clinical practice, severity of the acute illness is assessed on basis of history, comorbidity and on severity of local and vital signs. It has become clear that severity of illness can also be more objectively expressed in biomarkers, which individually are associated with complicated course of disease, such as bacteraemia, need for ICU admission, time to defervescence and length of hospital stay. Although PCT and proADM were correlated to these clinical outcome parameters in our patients, they did not help predict outcome of the otherwise standardized antibiotic treatment, irrespective of a treatment duration of 7 or 14 days. The most likely reason is that all patients were treated for at least 7 days after which treatment success was high already (i.e., 89%). Thus, the lack of predictive value for treatment guidance is likely explained by the fact that historically, empiric treatment duration is based on the anticipated time to clinical recovery, while taking into account the inter-individual variety in severity of acute illness at the start of treatment (i.e. practically, adding some days of treatment to average recovery time). Thus, in our patients, the median time to defervescence was 2.0 (IQR 1–3) days while randomization for short or prolonged treatment duration did not start until day 7. In other words, one could have predicted that our biomarker approach might have been successful in guiding treatments up to one or a few days after clinical recovery, but it lacked the ability to do so after the minimum 7 days of treatment, by which a strong margin surpasses the time for the biomarker signature to return to normal. Differences between patients in severity of illness at presentation and corresponding biomarker levels are likely to have normalized after 7 days of treatment, and definitely after 14 days. It should be noted, that antimicrobial resistance played no role in our study; patients with a ciprofloxacin resistant uropathogen were excluded from randomization and received effective therapy based on culture results.
In the original study we described that although 7 days of treatment was inferior to 14 days in male patients in terms of short term clinical cure, there was no difference in the requirement for antibiotic retreatment for UTI during longer follow up (90 days) in both women and men .
A retrospective analysis of a large database of male veterans also found that treatment duration longer than 7 days was not associated with a reduction of UTI recurrence . In this study, UTI recurrence was independently associated with age and comorbidity. It is likely that a subgroup of patients can be treated with an even shorter course of antibiotics than 7 days. Hypothetically, within the current time frame of treatment, there is a moment when the patient has recovered from the acute illness and the biomarker levels have dropped below a certain cut-off, likely leaving room for further limitation of treatment duration. It stands to reason that the time to this recovery is defined by host related factors, and therefore differs between patient subgroups. Biomarkers have the potential to objectively identify the optimal moment for cessation of therapy, irrespective of patient characteristics. Unfortunately, as reasoned above, our study design did not allow for further discrimination.
The main strength of this trial is its pragmatic nature reflecting daily clinical practice. We randomized patients between the up until then standard treatment duration for fUTI of 14 days and half of that length (7 days), and included enough subjects to demonstrate non-inferiority. We enrolled consecutive patients with fUTI, irrespective of age, gender and underlying medical condition. Different biomarker concentrations were available at the day of presentation and after three days of treatment, each representing different aspects of the physiological condition of the acute illness.
Limitations of our study include the design in randomizing patients between 7 and 14 days, not allowing for analysis of biomarker value in shorter antibiotic treatment. This was unforeseen, because at the start of the trial 14 days of therapy were standard clinical practice, and reduction to 7 days was already a great improvement. Furthermore, our sample size may have been too small to exclude a type II error.
To our knowledge, only one study addressing biomarker-guided antibiotic therapy in community acquired urinary tract infection has been published . In this study, Drozdov et al. randomized both patients with cystitis (N = 36) and febrile urinary tract infections (N = 84) between PCT-guided or standard treatment. Overall, antibiotic exposure was reduced whereas adverse outcomes (clinical recurrence and rehospitalization rate) were similar in both groups. In the subgroup analysis of patients with fUTI/pyelonephritis, PCT-guided duration of antibiotic therapy was significantly shorter than standard care (7.5 vs. 11.0 days). In bacteraemic patients, recurrence rate (56% vs. 16%) and persistent infection after treatment (13% vs. 6%) were higher in the PCT guided group, although the distribution of patients with bacteraemia was not well balanced between the groups (45% vs. 21%) and numbers were too small to reach significance. Although this study by Drozdov et al. is limited by the small sample size and heterogenicity of patients, it supports the potential use of PCT-based approach in patients with community acquired fUTI to safely reduce antibiotic consumption.
Future interventional studies should be conducted to examine if PCT-guided duration of antibiotic treatment can indeed aid in distinguishing a subgroup of patients with fUTI who can be treated with antibiotics for even shorter than 7 days, i.e. those with rapid normalization of elevated biomarkers, in order to further decrease antibiotic exposure and limit development of antimicrobial resistance.
In conclusion, although the biomarkers PCT and MR-proADM are correlated to clinical parameters indicating disease severity, they did not predict treatment outcome in patients with community acquired febrile urinary tract infection, who are treated for 7 or 14 days with ciprofloxacin. In our secondary analysis, CRP had no added value in the management of fUTI.