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Bacterial infections in patients with liver cirrhosis/Bakterijske infekcije kod bolesnika sa cirozom jetre.


Bacterial infections are often present in patients with liver cirrhosis, often leading to the progression of liver failure, occurrence of complications such as gastrointestinal bleeding, hepatic encephalopathy, hepatorenal syndrome and acute exacerbation of chronic liver failure. They are present on admission or develop during hospitalization in 30-40 % of patients with liver cirrhosis and are responsible for fatal outcome in 30-50 % of patients [1-3]. They result from immune dysfunction incurred during cirrhosis and the patients with cirrhosis are at increased risk of acquiring bacterial infection, developing sepsis and the fatal outcome. The reasons for this are the transfer of bacteria from the intestinal lumen to the mesenteric lymph nodes, portal and systemic circulation and the existence of portosystemic shunts, damaged functions of reticuloendothelial system which lead to reduced removal of bacteria and endotoxins from the portal circulation [4, 5]. It is believed that bacterial infections are particularly likely to develop in patients with advanced liver cirrhosis (Child-Pugh high score), bleeding from esophageal varices, low levels of protein in ascites and those who had previous episodes of spontaneous bacterial peritonitis [6, 7]. Bacterial infections in these patients are enhanced by invasive diagnostic and therapeutic procedures such as esophagogastroscopy, placing of Blakemore probe to stop bleeding from esophageal varices, placement of urinary catheters, central venous or subclavian catheters, ascites paracentesis, alcoholism, malnutrition, immunosuppressive therapy, proton therapy inhibitors pumps and others.

Bacterial infections in patients with liver cirrhosis usually manifest as spontaneous bacterial peritonitis (SBP), urinary tract infections, and pneumonia. Together, they make up about two thirds of these infections while the remainder belong to infections of the skin and soft tissue infections, bacteremia and other infections [8, 9]. The most commonly isolated are Gram-negative bacteria, such as Escherichia coli, Klebsiella spp, Enterobacter spp. and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, as well as Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pneumoniae being Gram -positive bacteria [10, 11]. Recently, there has been an increasing number of multidrug resistant strains of bacteria especially in hospital-acquired bacterial infections [6, 12, 13].

In order to achieve a more favorable treatment outcome of bacterial infections in cirrhotic patients it is very important to recognize the infection early and to introduce prompt and adequate treatment. As fever may be absent during infection in patients with advanced liver cirrhosis, the infection must be taken into consideration and proved in every patient with sudden decompensation of cirrhosis or exacerbation of disease. Clinical examination and determination of the acute phase inflammatory markers, such as C-reactive protein (CRP) and procalcitonin (PCT), may raise suspicion of the presence of a bacterial infection, which can be proved by taking bacterial cultures. Exacerbation of the disease and adverse outcome can be prevented by introducing adequate antibiotics as soon as possible [14]. In patients with liver cirrhosis who have had previous bleeding from esophageal varices, spontaneous bacterial peritonitis presence, or some other bacterial infection, it is recommended to apply prophylactic oral antibiotic treatment for seven days per month for the purpose of selective intestinal decontamination [15, 16].

The aim of this study was to determine the prevalence, localization and etiology of bacterial infections in hospitalized patients with liver cirrhosis.

Material and Methods

This retrospective study included 401 patients with liver cirrhosis hospitalized at the Department of Infectious Diseases, Clinical Center of Vojvodina Novi Sad during the period from 2006 to 2010. Diagnosis of bacterial infection was based on clinical examination (fever, visible infections of skin and soft tissue), laboratory findings such as elevated markers of acute phase inflammatory markers (CRP, PCT), bacterial positive culture of urine, blood, ascites and skin swabs. Diagnosis of SBP was based on diagnostic paracentesis and finding the absolute number of polymorphonuclears in ascitic liquid [greater than or equal to] 250/[mm.sup.3]. Diagnosis of pneumonia was based on chest X-ray which verified the changes in the lung parenchyma corresponding to an inflammatory process. The data were analyzed by statistical package SPSS version 13.0, and the results are shown in graphs and tables created in Microsoft Office Excel 2007.


Of 401 patients included in the study, 153 were found to have bacterial infection (38.15%). The most common infections were urinary tract infections, pneumonia and SBP, which were proved in 33/153 (21.56%), 32/153 (20.91%) and 29/153 patients (18.94%), respectively. Infections of skin and soft tissue were found in 13/153 patients (8.49%), while bacteremia was present in 9/153 patients (5.88%). The test performed failed to determine the localization of bacterial infections in 37/153 patients (24.18%).

Localization of bacterial infection in our patients is shown in Graph 1.

Positive bacterial culture confirmed the etiological diagnosis of bacterial infection in 32/153 patients (20.91%). These 32 positive bacterial cultures were as follows: 21 positive urine culture, 9 positive hemocultures and two positive swab cultures of skin taken from the site of infection. Of 33 patients with signs of bacterial infection of the urinary tract, positive urine culture was obtained in 32/33 (96.97%), all 9 patients with bacteremia had positive bacterial hemocultures (100%). Positive bacteriological culture swab provided bacteriological confirmation only in 2/13 (6.25%) patients with infection of skin and soft tissue. The diagnosis of SBP was based on the increased number of polymorphonuclear leukocytes in ascitic liquid ([greater than or equal to] 250 /[mm.sup.3]), while the bacterial culture sampled from the ascitic fluid remained sterile. Thirty two patients were diagnosed with pneumonia on the basis of changes in chest X-ray and elevated parameters of acute inflammation phase (CRP, PCT), which proved to be normalized after treatment with antibiotics on the check-up.

Of 32 patients, Gram-negative bacteria were isolated in 25 (78.12%), whereas Gram-positive bacteria were isolated in 7 patients (21.83%). Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus species were isolated in 23 (71.87%) and 7 patients (21.87%), respectively. One patient was found to have Pseudomonas aeruginosa (3.13%) and Enterococcus fecalis was also found in one patient (3.13%). Types of bacterial isolates in patients with liver cirrhosis and bacterial infection are shown in Graph 2.

Regarding the type of the material sample for bacteriological culture, Escherichia coli was isolated in 19 out of 21 bacteriologically positive urine culture, whereas Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Enterococcus fecalis was isolated in one sample, each. Of 9 positive blood cultures, Staphylococcus spp. was isolated in 5 samples and Escherichia coli in 4 samples. Staphylococcus spp. was isolated from both positive skin swab samples. The type of bacterial isolates taken for bacteriological culture is given in Table 1.

Lethal outcome of bacterial infections in patients with liver cirrhosis was reported in 31.37% of cases (48/153), while healing was achieved in 68.63% of patients (105/153).


The results of this study indicate that bacterial infections often occur in patients with liver cirrhosis, in 38.15% of cases, which is consistent with the earlier studies. A similar prevalence of bacterial infection in patients with cirrhosis of 37.8% was reported by M. Drang et al., a group of Romanian authors, who stressed that the infection often passed without symptoms [17]. It is believed that the patients with liver cirrhosis and gastrointestinal bleeding are particularly prone to bacterial infections, which occur in about 45% of cases [7]. Having analyzed the occurrence of sepsis in patients with cirrhosis, Arvaniti V. et al. concluded that the occurrence of sepsis and multiorgan dysfunction in patients with terminal liver cirrhosis increased mortality four times [18]. Lethal outcome in 31.37% of patients with bacterial infection and cirrhosis in our study is consistent with the literature data.

According to the literature the most common types of bacterial infections in patients with liver cirrhosis are SBP, urinary tract infections and pneumonia, followed by infections of the skin and soft tissue infections, bacteremia and other infections [8, 9]. The distribution of types of bacterial infections in our study is consistent with the literature data since it has been found that the most commonly occurring infections are urinary tract infection (21.56%), pneumonia (20.91%), and SBP (18.94%). Similar distribution of types of bacterial infections was found by Preda CM et al., a group of Romanian authors as well as by Fernandez J et al., a group of Spanish authors [19, 20]. What is worrying is the fact that the type of infection remained undetermined in % (24.18%) of the patients in our study. The available literature does not offer such information because the studies only show the distribution of type or localization of infection without specifying whether there are undetermined types of infections. The group of patients with "undetermined type of infection" consisted of patients who had prolonged fever and elevated acute phase parameters, which disappeared after antibiotic treatment. It should be emphasized that this study was retrospective and data were not recorded precisely during hospitalization, CRP and PCT were not routinely taken in all patients, the patients did not undergo a detailed examination in order to confirm the presence of infection. In other words, more attention was paid to the treatment of liver cirrhosis and its decompensation than to the type of infection. Diagnostic paracentesis was not performed routinely in patients with ascites, and since it is known that SBP often goes asymptomatic, diagnostic paracentesis should be done in case of occurrence of ascites [21, 22].

The results of bacterial cultures in our study agree with literature data which also indicate that Gram-negative bacteria, especially Escherichia coli are predominant. According to recent data, approximately 65 % of bacterial infections in patients with liver cirrhosis are caused by Gram-negative bacteria, that being somewhat less than in our study where that participation was 78.12% [21]. It is important to emphasize that our study gave data on positive bacterial cultures in only 20.91% of the cases, which is not satisfactory because this percentage is much higher in the literature, ranging from 40-70% [2,19]. This small number of positive bacterial cultures in our study is unsatisfactory, but it should be taken into consideration that this was a retrospective study of hospitalized patients, whose samples for bacterial cultures were not taken routinely or frequently enough, that there may have been some inappropriate sampling, storage and transport of samples. In addition, a considerable number of patients had been taking antibiotics before sampling for bacteriological culture and the presence of a bacterial infection in hospitalized patients was not always taken into consideration.


Bacterial infections often occur in patients with liver cirrhosis. Therefore, they should be taken into consideration in patients with liver cirrhosis and acute exacerbation of the disease, i.e. decompensation in order to make the early etiological diagnosis and introduce antibiotics that cover the most common Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria as early as possible. A great number of positive bacterial cultures must be obtained in order to enhance the favorable outcome of bacterial infections in patients with liver cirrhosis. Even before receiving the results of bacterial cultures, biomarkers of acute phase of inflammation, such as C-reactive protein and procalcitonin, must be looked for because they raise suspicion of the presence of bacterial infection. A detailed clinical examination, sampling material for bacteriological culture, and paracentesis of ascites and chest X-ray may confirm the presence of bacterial infection, and thus appropriate antibiotic therapy can be introduced on time. It most often involves the application of third generation cephalosporins or quinolones for a period of 10-14 days. Consequently, if bacterial infections in patients with liver cirrhosis are taken into consideration, their influence on mortality can be decreased, the duration of treatment can be shortened and treatment costs can be reduced.

SBP --spontaneous bacterial peritonitis
CRP --C-reactive protein
PCT --procalcitonin
ITU --infectio tractus urinarii

Profesisional article

Strucni clanak

UDK 616.36-004-052:616.98

DOI: 10.2298/MPNS1506187P

Rad je primljen 13. IV 2014.

Recenziran 23. XI 2014.

Prihvacen za stampu 6. II 2015.



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Tomislav Preveden

University of Novi Sad

Faculty of Medicine

Clinical Center of Vojvodina, Novi Sad

Department of Infectious Diseases

Corresponding Author: Doc. dr Tomislav Preveden, Klinika za infektivne bolesti, Klinicki centar Vojvodine, 21000 Novi Sad, Hajduk Veljkova 1-7,
Table 1. Type of bacterial isolates taken for
bacteriological cultures (N=32)

Tabela 1. Vrsta bakterijskih izolata u odnosu
na vrstu uzetog materijala (N = 32)

                  Escherichia   Staphylococcus   Pseudomonas
                     coli          species       aeruginosa

Urine culture         19              0               1
Hemoculture            4              5               0
Skin swab              0              2               0
  /Bris koze
Total/Ukupno          23              7               1

                  Enterococcus   Total
                    fecalis      Ukupno

Urine culture          1           21
Hemoculture            0           9
Skin swab              0           2
  /Bris koze
Total/Ukupno           1           32

Graph 1. Identification of bacterial infection (n = 153)

Grafikon 1. Lokalizacija bakterijske infekcije (n = 153)

ITU                     33
Pneumonia               32
SBP                     29
Infection of the skin   13
  and soft tissue
Infekcija koze i
  Mekih tkiva
Undetermined            37

ITU (infectio tractus urinarii/infectio tractus urinarii);
SBP (spontaneous bacterial peritonitis/spontani
bakterijski peritonitis)

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Graph 2. Types of bacterial isolates from samples of
patients with liver cirrhosis (n = 32)

Grafikon 2. Tipovi bakterijskih izolata iz uzoraka
materijala kod bolesnika sa cirozom jetre (n = 32)

Pseudom.aerug.;    1
Enteroc.fecalis;   1
E. coli;           23
Staph.spp.;        7

Note: Table made from pie chart.
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Author:Preveden, Tomislav
Publication:Medicinski Pregled
Article Type:Report
Date:May 1, 2015
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