Current Opinion

Treatments in Respiratory Medicine

, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 153-167

First online:

Role of Antimicrobial Agents in the Management of Exacerbations of COPD

  • Sat SharmaAffiliated withSection of Respirology, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Manitoba, BG034, St Boniface General Hospital Email author 
  • , Nicholas AnthonisenAffiliated withSection of Respirology, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Manitoba, BG034, St Boniface General Hospital

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Acute exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (AECOPD) are a common occurrence and characterize the natural history of the disease. Over the past decade, new knowledge has substantially enhanced our understanding of the pathogenesis, outcome and natural history of AECOPD. The exacerbations not only greatly reduce the quality of life of these patients, but also result in hospitalization, respiratory failure, and death. The exacerbations are the major cost drivers in consumption of healthcare resources by COPD patients. Although bacterial infections are the most common etiologic agents, the role of viruses in COPD exacerbations is being increasingly recognized. The efficacy of antimicrobial therapy in acute exacerbations has established a causative role for bacterial infections. Recent molecular typing of sputum isolates further supports the role of bacteria in AECOPD. Isolation of a new strain of Haemophilus influenzae, Moraxella catarrhalis, or Streptococcus pneumoniae was associated with a considerable risk of an exacerbation. Lower airway bacterial colonization in stable patients with COPD instigates airway inflammation, which leads to a protracted self-perpetuating vicious circle of progressive lung damage and disease progression. A significant proportion of patients treated for COPD exacerbation demonstrate incomplete recovery, and frequent exacerbations contribute to decline in lung function. The predictors of poor outcome include advanced age, significant impairment of lung function, poor performance status, comorbid conditions and history of previous frequent exacerbations requiring antibacterials or systemic corticosteroids. These high-risk patients, who are likely to harbor organisms resistant to commonly used antimicrobials, should be identified and treated with antimicrobials with a low potential for failure. An aggressive management approach in complicated exacerbations may reduce costs by reducing healthcare utilization and hospitalization.