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Febrile Neutropenia


Medical editor Harald Holte MD
Oncologist
Oslo University Hospital
Norway

Dag Torfoss MD
Infection Specialist
Oslo University Hospital
Norway

General

Febrile neutropenia occurs in compromised immune systems due to a low number of leukocytes, especially granulocytes. Patients with a declining number of granulocytes after chemotherapy, can during bacterial sepsis, quickly develop extensive neutropenia and become critically ill. Febrile neutropenia can be a life-threatening condition.

A patient with neutropenia and simultaneous fever or clinical suspicion of systemic infection should be treated as quickly as possible with broad spectrum antibiotics including gram-negative and gram-positive coverage as soon as the required microbiological samples are taken.

The clinical situation is most critical in patients who have not yet started antibiotic treatment. When broad-spectrum antibiotic treatment is started, monitoring the fever may be permitted.

Fever is often the only symptom. Some have septicemia without fever. One should therefore also be aware of other symptoms such as lethargia, diarrhea, or visible sign of infection. The local clinical symptoms and signs (redness, pain, temperature increase, swelling (boil), and reduced organ function) are most often very much reduced or completely absent during neutropenia.

Indications

  • A patient with neutropenia and simultaneously fever or clinical suspicion of systemic infection

Goals

  • Avoid septicemia.
  • The patient is able follow the planned scheme of treatment.

Definitions

Fever is defined as:

  • a single (rectal) temperature ≥ 38.5 °C or
  • temperature ≥ 38 °C for more than 2 hours or
  • temperature ≥ 38 °C measured three times during 24 hours

There is a known increase of infections when neutrophil < 1.0 x 109/l.  The infection risk increases with degree and duration of neutropenia. The neutropenia is considered severe when granulocytes are ≤ 0.5 x 109/l.


Preparation

The following diagnostic tests should be performed:

  • Adequate microbiologic tests: blood culture x 2-3, throat/nasopharynx, urine, catheter opening any surgical incisions. All blood cultures should be taken simultaneously to avoid losing valuable time.
  • Blood culture and other microbiological samples should be taken before antibiotic treatment is started
  • Blood tests with differential count of leukocytes, thrombocytes, Hb, CRP, SR, creatinine
  • X-ray of chest

Information

Before initiation of chemotherapy, the patient should be extensively informed, both verbally and in writing, of febrile neutropenia and  its consequences.

A patient who can develop febrile neutropenia should obtain a written statement of the condition to present to other treatment providers.

Use of an isolated or private room

Patients with neutrophil granulocytes ≤ 0.3 x 109/l should have a private room if possible. Guidelines for protective isolation should be followed. Thorough washing of hands is especially important.

 


Implementation

  • Treatment is started as soon as possible.  Treatment may be postponed a maximum of 30 minutes to complete microbiological testing.
  • Start septicemia treatment for fever if neutropenia is expected, regardless of granulocyte value.

Antibiotic regimen

  • Benzylpenicillin sodium 5 mg IE x 4 tobramycin or gentamicin 5-10 mg/kg x1
  • Tazocin® 4 g x 3
  • Cefotaxime® 1 g x 4 if aminoglycoside should be avoided
  • Ceftazidim® 1 g x 4  with suspicion of pseudomonas infection
  • Meronem ® 0.5 g x 4 usually 2nd or 3rd choice

When using aminoglycoside, the first dose should be high. Keep in mind the following:

  • age
  • sex
  • kidney function
  • fat index   

Otherwise, the dose should be decided from concentration of aminoglycoside determined after the second day and thereafter monitored 2x per week. 

Serum concentration of tobramycin and gentamycin

For single dose in 24 hours

  • Trough concentration (0-test = 24 hour test) < 0.5 mg/l
  • Top concentration (30 minute after infusion is completed) > 12 mg/l

For multiple doses in 24 hours

  • Trough concentration < 2 mg/l, top concentration (30 minutes after the infusion is completed) preferably > 8-10 mg/l 
  • Avoid aminoglycoside :
    • If kidney function is reduced. Avoid aminoglycoside if cisplatin is used. If cisplatin has been previously used, many patients will have subclinically reduced kidney function. If necessary, use aminoglycoside for a short period and monitor kidney function closely.
    • If carboplatin is used, determine glomerulus filtration rate (GFR) for each new treatment. Penicillin/aminoglycoside can be used if GFR is stable (has not declined more than 15% if initial value is in the normal range)
    • With sarcoma: Protocols with very high doses methotrexate and ifosfamid (> 5 g/m2) should be used in sarcoma treatment. It is not abnormal for these patients to have an increase in creatinine.
    • with massive ascites
    • with suspicion of or documented myeloma kidney (myelomatosis)
    • If aminoglycoside has been used in the past two weeks
  • Suspicion of staphylococcus aureus as a cause of infection (relatively rare)
    • Give penicillinase-stable penicillin, cloxacillin, or dicloxacillin, possibly clindamycin instead of ordinary penicillin. Yellow staphylococci are also killed by cefotaxime and by merop
  • Gram-positive cocci in multiple blood cultures and if the patient has clinical signs of infection
    • Use vancomycin 500 mg x 4 until resistance determination is available
  • Poor patient condition and suspicion of gram-negative septicaemia
    • Use “double gram-negative” with for example ceftazidim or tobramycin
    • Other preparations with good effects against most gram-negative bacteria are meropenem and ciprofloxacin
  • Suspicion of anaerobic infection
    • Use an anaerobic drug: Metronidazol 500 mg x 3, clindamycin 600 mg x 4, piperacillin/tazobactam 2g x 4 or meronem 500 mg x 4.  This especially applies if there is suspicion of anaerobic infection under the diaphragm such as gallbladder, intestines, perforation, abscess.
    • penicillin is often adequate for anaerobic infections above the diaphragm.

With continuing clinical signs of infection, adjust the antibiotic treatment according to resistance determination in blood culture. Maintain gram-negative coverage.

Systemic fungal treatment

By persistent fever after multiple days with broad spectrum antibiotic treatment, one should consider empirical treatment of possible candida-sepsis, for example with fluconazole 600 mg the first 24 hours, and thereafter 400 mg x 1.

If candida is documented without adequate response to fluconazole, a fungicide drug should be used, for example amphotericin B.

If suspected infection with Aspergillus apply voriconazole, amphotericin B or caspofungin.


Follow-up

Observe for symptoms of a new infection.

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