What is the role of empiric therapy in gastroenteritis treatment?

Updated: Feb 10, 2017
  • Author: Arthur Diskin, MD; Chief Editor: Steven C Dronen, MD, FAAEM  more...
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Empiric therapy for infectious diarrhea is sometimes indicated. Food-borne toxigenic diarrhea usually requires only supportive treatment, not antibiotics. Note the following:

  • The duration of traveler's diarrhea (E coli, Shigella) can be shortened by half or more with trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (TMP/SMZ) or ciprofloxacin administered for 3 days. Single doses have also been used effectively. The duration of treatment may be extended by 2-3 days for moderate-to-severe cases.

  • Generally, fluoroquinolones are the drugs of choice for acute infectious gastroenteritis when used empirically. They do not appear to increase carrier states; however, they are contraindicated in pregnant women and in children.

  • Erythromycin or azithromycin is effective in Campylobacter infections, although erythromycin is not well tolerated in the patient who is vomiting.

  • Metronidazole (oral or parenteral) is effective in mild-to-moderate cases of C difficile diarrhea (in addition to discontinuance of the causative agent). Patients who are severely ill may require orally administered vancomycin, which may require delivery via nasogastric tube or colonoscope.

  • Mild cases of suspected Yersinia infection should be treated with TMP/SMZ or a fluoroquinolone, while patients who are more ill and require admission benefit from IV ceftriaxone.

  • Intestinal salmonellosis in an immunocompetent host does not require antimicrobials because they may prolong fecal shedding of organisms.

  • Metronidazole is effective against parasitic infestations with Giardia or Entamoeba.

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