Antibiotics for leptospirosis.

David M. Brett-Major*, Rodney Coldren

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

128 Scopus citations


Leptospirosis has a wide-ranging clinical and public health impact. Leptospira are globally distributed. Case attack rates are as high as 1:4 to 2:5 persons in exposed populations. In some settings mortality has exceeded 10% of infected people. The benefit of antibiotic therapy in the disease has been unclear. We sought to characterise the risks and benefits associated with use of antibiotic therapy in the management of leptospirosis. We searched the The Cochrane Hepato-Biliary Group Controlled Trials Register, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) in The Cochrane Library, MEDLINE, EMBASE, and Science Citation Index Expanded regardless of study language. This was augmented by a manual search. The last date of search was November, 2011. To be included in assessment of benefits, trials had to specifically assess the use of antibiotics in a randomised clinical trial. A broad range of study types were incorporated to seek potential harms. Included trials were systematically abstracted, as were excluded studies for the purposes of assessing harms. Analyses were conducted in accordance with The Cochrane Handbook and practices of The Cochrane Hepato-Biliary Group. Seven randomised trials were included.  Four trials with 403 patients compared an antibiotic with placebo or no intervention. Three trials compared at least one antibiotic regimen with another antibiotic regimen. The trials all had high risk of bias. The trials varied in the severity of leptospirosis among trial patients. The ability to group data for meta-analysis was limited. While all four trials that compared antibiotics with placebo reported mortality and used parenteral penicillin, there were no deaths in two of them. Since odds ratio calculations cannot employ zero-event trials, only two trials contributed to this estimate. The number of deaths were 16/200 (8.0%) in the antibiotic arm versus 11/203 (5.4%) in the placebo arm giving a fixed-effect OR 1.56 (95% CI 0.70 to 3.46). The random-effects OR is 1.16 (95% CI 0.23 to 5.95). The heterogeneity among these four trials for the mortality outcome was moderate (I(2)= 50%). Only one trial (253 patients) reported days of hospitalisation. It compared parenteral penicillin to placebo without significant effect of therapy (8.9 versus 8.8 days; mean difference (MD) 0.10 days, 95% CI -0.83 to 1.03). The difference in days of clinical illness was reported in two of these trials (71 patients). While parenteral penicillin therapy conferred 4.7 to 5.6 days of clinical illness in contrast to 7.7 to 11.6 days in the placebo arm, the size of the estimate of effect increased but statistical significance was lost under the random-effect model (fixed-effect: MD -2.13 days, 95% CI -2.46 to -1.80; random-effects: MD -4.04, 95% CI -8.66 to 0.58). I(2) for this outcome was high (81%). When duration of fever alone was assessed between antibiotics and placebo in a single trial (79 patients), no significant difference existed (6.9 versus 6.6 days; MD 0.30, 95% CI -1.26 to 1.86). Two trials with 332 patients in relatively severe and possibly late leptospirosis, resulted in trends towards increased dialysis when penicillin was used rather than placebo, but the estimate of effect was small and did not reach statistical significance (42/163 (25.8%) versus 31/169 (18.4%); OR 1.54, 95% CI 0.91 to 2.60). When one antibiotic was assessed against another antibiotic, there were no statistically significant results. For mortality in particular, these comparisons included cephalosporin versus penicillin (2 trials, 6/176 (3.4%) versus 9/175 (5.2%); fixed-effect: OR 0.65, 95% CI 0.23 to 1.87, I(2)= 16%), doxycycline versus penicillin (1 trial, 2/81 (2.5%) versus 4/89 (4.5); OR 0.54, 95% CI 0.10 to 3.02), cephalosporin versus doxycycline (1 trial, 1/88 (1.1%) versus 2/81 (2.5%); OR 0.45, 95% CI 0.04 to 5.10). There were no adverse events of therapy which reached statistical significance. Insufficient evidence is available to advocate for or against the use of antibiotics in the therapy for leptospirosis. Among survivors who were hospitalised for leptospirosis, use of antibiotics for leptospirosis may have decreased the duration of clinical illness by two to four days, though this result was not statistically significant. When electing to treat with an antibiotic, selection of penicillin, doxycycline, or cephalosporin does not seem to impact mortality nor duration of fever. The benefit of antibiotic therapy in the treatment of leptospirosis remains unclear, particularly for severe disease. Further clinical research is needed to include broader panels of therapy tested against placebo.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)CD008264
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
StatePublished - 2012


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