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Prevention of ventilator-associated pneumonia, mortality and all intensive care unit acquired infections by topically applied antimicrobial or antiseptic agents: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials in intensive care units

Claudia Pileggi1*, Aida Bianco12, Domenico Flotta1, Carmelo GA Nobile1 and Maria Pavia1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, Chair of Hygiene, Medical School, University of Catanzaro "Magna Græcia", via Tommaso Campanella, 88100 Catanzaro Italy

2 Hospital Hygiene Unit, "Mater Domini" University Hospital, via Tommaso Campanella, 88100 Catanzaro Italy

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Critical Care 2011, 15:R155  doi:10.1186/cc10285

Published: 24 June 2011



Given the high morbidity and mortality attributable to ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) in intensive care unit (ICU) patients, prevention plays a key role in the management of patients undergoing mechanical ventilation. One of the candidate preventive interventions is the selective decontamination of the digestive or respiratory tract (SDRD) by topical antiseptic or antimicrobial agents. We performed a meta-analysis to investigate the effect of topical digestive or respiratory tract decontamination with antiseptics or antibiotics in the prevention of VAP, of mortality and of all ICU-acquired infections in mechanically ventilated ICU patients.


A meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials was performed. The U.S. National Library of Medicine's MEDLINE database, Embase, and Cochrane Library computerized bibliographic databases, and reference lists of selected studies were used. Selection criteria for inclusion were: randomised controlled trials (RCTs); primary studies; examining the reduction of VAP and/or mortality and/or all ICU-acquired infections in ICU patients by prophylactic use of one or more of following topical treatments: 1) oropharyngeal decontamination using antiseptics or antibiotics, 2) gastrointestinal tract decontamination using antibiotics, 3) oropharyngeal plus gastrointestinal tract decontamination using antibiotics and 4) respiratory tract decontamination using antibiotics; reported enough data to estimate the odds ratio (OR) or risk ratio (RR) and their variance; English language; published through June 2010.


A total of 28 articles met all inclusion criteria and were included in the meta-analysis. The overall estimate of efficacy of topical SDRD in the prevention of VAP was 27% (95% CI of efficacy = 16% to 37%) for antiseptics and 36% (95% CI of efficacy = 18% to 50%) for antibiotics, whereas in none of the meta-analyses conducted on mortality was a significant effect found. The effect of topical SDRD in the prevention of all ICU-acquired infections was statistically significant (efficacy = 29%; 95% CI of efficacy = 14% to 41%) for antibiotics whereas the use of antiseptics did not show a significant beneficial effect.


Topical SDRD using antiseptics or antimicrobial agents is effective in reducing the frequency of VAP in ICU. Unlike antiseptics, the use of topical antibiotics seems to be effective also in preventing all ICU-acquired infections, while the effectiveness on mortality of these two approaches needs to be investigated in further research.