The preventative use of antibiotics on intensive care patients increases their chance of survival, a study led in the Netherlands and published Wednesday in the United States has found.
A team of researchers from the University Medical Center (UMC) Utrecht compared the effect of two types of antibiotic treatments on nearly 6,000 Dutch patients in intensive care units (ICUs) across thirteen hospitals.
The study argues that its findings settle a long-running debate between the advantages of preventive antibiotic use and the drawbacks of people potentially developing antibiotic resistance.
"I believe we should revise the antibiotic policy for the ICU," UMC Utrecht anesthesiologist Anne Marie de Smet, the article's primary author, said in a statement.
"We have seen that using antibiotics clearly results in a reduction in the number of deaths, and ICUs should make use of this knowledge."
During the study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers divided the patients hospitalized between 2004 and 2006 into three groups of about 2,000 people each.
One group received an oral antibiotic paste four times a day. A second group received that same treatment, as well as antibiotics by intravenous drip and through a gastric tube in the intestinal tract. The third group -- the control group -- received standard ICU care.
After four weeks, preventive use of antibiotics reduced the number of deaths by 3.5 percent in the second group and by 2.9 percent in the first group, compared to the control group.
The study said the difference between the first two groups -- those receiving antibiotics -- was insignificant and that they did not experience an increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Statistical data was also adjusted to reflect the generally better health conditions of patients in the control group.
All participating patients were expected to be on a ventilator for at least two days or received ICU care for at least three days.
Over 18,000 patients are hospitalized in ICUs for more than three days every year in the Netherlands.
The study noted that further research, conducted over a longer period of time, would be needed to determine how resistance to antibiotics develops in the long term.