Cycling Empirical Antibiotic Therapy in Hospitals: Meta-Analysis and Models

Pia Abel zur Wiesch*, Roger Kouyos, Soren Abel, Wolfgang Viechtbauer, Sebastian Bonhoeffer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The rise of resistance together with the shortage of new broad-spectrum antibiotics underlines the urgency of optimizing the use of available drugs to minimize disease burden. Theoretical studies suggest that coordinating empirical usage of antibiotics in a hospital ward can contain the spread of resistance. However, theoretical and clinical studies came to different conclusions regarding the usefulness of rotating first-line therapy (cycling). Here, we performed a quantitative pathogen-specific meta-analysis of clinical studies comparing cycling to standard practice. We searched PubMed and Google Scholar and identified 46 clinical studies addressing the effect of cycling on nosocomial infections, of which 11 met our selection criteria. We employed a method for multivariate meta-analysis using incidence rates as endpoints and find that cycling reduced the incidence rate/1000 patient days of both total infections by 4.95 [9.43-0.48] and resistant infections by 7.2 [14.00-0.44]. This positive effect was observed in most pathogens despite a large variance between individual species. Our findings remain robust in uni- and multivariate metaregressions. We used theoretical models that reflect various infections and hospital settings to compare cycling to random assignment to different drugs (mixing). We make the realistic assumption that therapy is changed when first line treatment is ineffective, which we call "adjustable cycling/mixing". In concordance with earlier theoretical studies, we find that in strict regimens, cycling is detrimental. However, in adjustable regimens single resistance is suppressed and cycling is successful in most settings. Both a meta-regression and our theoretical model indicate that "adjustable cycling" is especially useful to suppress emergence of multiple resistance. While our model predicts that cycling periods of one month perform well, we expect that too long cycling periods are detrimental. Our results suggest that "adjustable cycling" suppresses multiple resistance and warrants further investigations that allow comparing various diseases and hospital settings.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1004225
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014


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