Scientists at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital have demonstrated a more effective treatment for bacterial pneumonia following influenza. They found that the antibiotics clindamycin and azithromycin, which kill bacteria by inhibiting their protein synthesis, are more effective than a standard first-line treatment with the "beta-lactam" antibiotic ampicillin, which causes the bacteria to lyse, or burst.
The finding is important because pneumonia, rather than the influenza itself, is a principal cause of death from influenza in children and the elderly. During pandemicssuch as the one that may arise from avian influenzaup to 95 percent of influenza deaths are due to pneumonia. A bioterrorism attack using the influenza virus would likely result in the same high percentage of pneumonia deaths, according to the researchers.
The group, led by Jonathan McCullers, M.D., associate member of the St. Jude Infectious Diseases department, expect the new findings, currently demonstrated in mice, to be incorporated into standard clinical practice guidelines during the next few years.
McCullers and his colleagues published their findings in the advanced, online issue of the Journal of Infectious Diseases. The researchers based the new treatment on growing evidence that beta-lactams are relatively ineffective against secondary pneumonia because the drugs exacerbate inflammation caused by influenza.
"With severe secondary pneumonia, it has seemed that physicians do almost everything they can, and it doesn't work," McCullers said. "People still die despite treatment with antibiotics that can kill the bacteria. Our research is showing that the intense inflammatory response that is already there from the virus is amplified by the bacterial infection. And, treatment with beta-lactams releases bacterial components into the bloodstream that the immune system recognizes, triggering an inflammatory burst that can be deadly.
|Contact: Carrie Strehlau|
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital