Antibiotics for bacterial infection in the urine in kidney transplant recipients when there are no symptoms

Coussement J, Scemla A, Abramowicz D, Nagler EV, Webster AC

What is the issue?
Bacteria in the urine in kidney transplant recipients when there are no symptoms of urine infection is called asymptomatic bacteriuria. Up to one in two people with a kidney transplant will develop a bacterial infection of the urine (bacteriuria) at some point after transplantation. Bacteriuria with symptoms like fever, chills, painful urination, abdominal pain and blood in urine is a urinary tract infection (UTI). Bacteriuria often occurs without symptoms and it is frequently treated with antibiotics with the idea this might help avoid subsequent UTI. Avoiding UTI might improve patient and transplant survival. However, it is unclear how many people with asymptomatic bacteriuria go on to develop UTI symptoms; whether treatment with antibiotics truly avoids UTI; or whether treatment when asymptomatic improves survival of both patient and kidney. Also, there can be downsides to taking antibiotics. Taking regular antibiotics might mean that bacteria resistant to antibiotics are encouraged, and taking antibiotics might cause diarrhoea and other adverse events. There are also antibiotic costs to consider. This review looked at whether treating with antibiotics is beneficial of harmful.

What did we do?

We searched the literature up to September 2017 and identified two studies (212 participants) that were evaluated in this review. These studies compared antibiotics versus no treatment.

What did we find?
The bacterial infection of the urine often persisted, whether antibiotics were given or not. It was uncertain whether antibiotics prevented symptomatic urinary infection or increased the risk of selecting bacteria resistant to antibiotics, because there were too few data and several limitations in the included studies. Also, it was unclear whether the use of antibiotics in case of urinary infection without symptoms reduced the risks of graft rejection, need for hospitalisation due to symptoms of urinary infection, or mortality, or whether antibiotics improved the function of the kidney transplant. One study with 112 participants suggested there were no severe harmful reactions caused by the antibiotic treatment, and non-severe adverse events appeared to be rare.

It is uncertain whether antibiotics are beneficial in kidney transplant recipients with bacteria in their urine but no symptoms. In one study, participants were assigned to antibiotics or no therapy by a method that was not random (i.e. according to patients' transplant code). In both studies, participants knew which treatment they were receiving (i.e. antibiotics or no therapy), which may have influenced the results. Last, we had not enough data to estimate with precision some effects of antibiotics. More research is needed.

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