Duration of intravenous antibiotic therapy in people with cystic fibrosis

  • Review
  • Intervention




Respiratory disease is the major cause of mortality and morbidity in cystic fibrosis (CF). Life expectancy of people with CF has increased dramatically in the last 40 years. One of the major reasons for this increase is the mounting use of antibiotics to treat chest exacerbations caused by bacterial infections. The optimal duration of intravenous antibiotic therapy is not clearly defined. Individuals usually receive intravenous antibiotics for 14 days, but treatment may range from 10 to 21 days. A shorter duration of antibiotic treatment risks inadequate clearance of infection which could lead to further lung damage. Prolonged courses of intravenous antibiotics are expensive and inconvenient and the incidence of allergic reactions to antibiotics also increases with prolonged courses. The use of aminoglycosides requires frequent monitoring to avoid some of their side effects. However, some organisms which infect people with CF are known to be multi-resistant to antibiotics, and may require a longer course of treatment.


To assess the optimal duration of intravenous antibiotic therapy for treating chest exacerbations in people with cystic fibrosis.

Search methods

We searched the Cochrane Cystic Fibrosis and Genetic Disorders Group Trials Register which comprises references identified from comprehensive electronic database searches, handsearches of relevant journals, abstract books and conference proceedings.

Most recent search of the Group's Cystic Fibrosis Trials Register: 3 December 2010.

Selection criteria

Randomised and quasi-randomised controlled trials comparing different durations of intravenous antibiotic courses for acute respiratory exacerbations in people with CF, either with the same drugs at the same dosage, the same drugs at a different dosage or frequency or different antibiotics altogether, including studies with additional therapeutic agents.

Data collection and analysis

No eligible trials were identified.

Main results

No eligible trials were identified.

Authors' conclusions

There are no clear guidelines on the optimum duration of intravenous antibiotic treatment. Duration of treatment is currently based on unit policies and response to treatment. Shorter duration of treatment should improve quality of life and compliance; result in a reduced incidence of drug reactions; and be less costly. However, this may not be sufficient to clear a chest infection and may result in an early recurrence of an exacerbation. This systematic review identifies the need for a multicentre, randomised controlled trial comparing different durations of intravenous antibiotic treatment as it has important clinical and financial implications.

Plain language summary

The length of time antibiotic treatment, which is administered directly into the blood stream, is needed to clear an acute chest infection in people with cystic fibrosis

Chest infections in people with cystic fibrosis are treated aggressively to prevent further damage to the lungs. This has resulted in better survival rates for people with cystic fibrosis in recent years. There are no clear guidelines on how long chest infections should be treated with intravenous antibiotics. Different centres tend to use different treatment regimens. Most centres use 10 or 14 days, extending them to 21 days if there is no improvement. We could not find any studies comparing 10 days treatment with 14 days or longer treatment. Shorter duration of treatment may be better as these courses of treatment are easier for people to complete. They are also less expensive and cause fewer drug reactions than longer treatments. However, it is not clear if shorter treatment is enough to treat infections adequately. It is also not clear whether shorter treatment results in early recurrence or increased frequency of chest infections. Further research is needed to find the optimum duration for treating chest infection.