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Procalcitonin-guided therapy in intensive care unit patients with severe sepsis and septic shock – a systematic review and meta-analysis

Anna Prkno12, Christina Wacker12, Frank M Brunkhorst23 and Peter Schlattmann12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medical Statistics, Computer Sciences and Documentation, Jena University Hospital, Bachstrasse 18, D-07743 Jena, Germany

2 Center for Sepsis Control and Care (CSCC), Jena University Hospital, Jena, Germany

3 Paul-Martini-Clinical Sepsis Research Unit, Center of Clinical Studies, Department of Anaesthesiology and Intensive Care Medicine, Jena University Hospital, Jena, Germany

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Critical Care 2013, 17:R291  doi:10.1186/cc13157

Please see related commentary by Salluh et al.:

Published: 11 December 2013



Procalcitonin (PCT) algorithms for antibiotic treatment decisions have been studied in adult patients from primary care, emergency department, and intensive care unit (ICU) settings, suggesting that procalcitonin-guided therapy may reduce antibiotic exposure without increasing the mortality rate. However, information on the efficacy and safety of this approach in the most vulnerable population of critically ill patients with severe sepsis and septic shock is missing.


Two reviewers independently performed a systematic search in PubMed, Embase, ISI Web of Knowledge, BioMed Central, ScienceDirect, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, webcite and webcite.

Eligible studies had to be randomized controlled clinical trials or cohort studies which compare procalcitonin-guided therapy with standard care in severe sepsis patients and report at least one of the following outcomes: hospital mortality, 28-day mortality, duration of antimicrobial therapy, length of stay in the intensive care unit or length of hospital stay. Disagreements about inclusion of studies and judgment of bias were solved by consensus.


Finally seven studies comprising a total of 1,075 patients with severe sepsis or septic shock were included in the meta-analysis.

Both hospital mortality (RR [relative risk]: 0.91, 95%CI [confidence interval]: 0.61; 1.36) and 28-day mortality (RR: 1.02, 95%CI: 0.85; 1.23) were not different between procalcitonin-guided therapy and standard treatment groups.

Duration of antimicrobial therapy was significantly reduced in favor of procalcitonin-guided therapy (HR [hazard ratio]: 1.27, 95%CI: 1.01; 1.53). Combined estimates of the length of stay in the ICU and in hospital did not differ between groups.


Procalcitonin-guided therapy is a helpful approach to guide antibiotic therapy and surgical interventions without a beneficial effect on mortality. The major benefit of PCT-guided therapy consists of a shorter duration of antibiotic treatment compared to standard care.

Trials are needed to investigate the effect of PCT-guided therapy on mortality, length of ICU and in-hospital stay in severe sepsis patients.