Background Excessive use of empirical antibiotics is common in critically ill patients. Rapid biomarker-based exclusion of infection may improve antibiotic stewardship in ventilator-acquired pneumonia (VAP). However, successful validation of the usefulness of potential markers in this setting is exceptionally rare.
Objectives We sought to validate the capacity for specific host inflammatory mediators to exclude pneumonia in patients with suspected VAP.
Methods A prospective, multicentre, validation study of patients with suspected VAP was conducted in 12 intensive care units. VAP was confirmed following bronchoscopy by culture of a potential pathogen in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BALF) at >104 colony forming units per millilitre (cfu/mL). Interleukin-1 beta (IL-1β), IL-8, matrix metalloproteinase-8 (MMP-8), MMP-9 and human neutrophil elastase (HNE) were quantified in BALF. Diagnostic utility was determined for biomarkers individually and in combination.
Results Paired BALF culture and biomarker results were available for 150 patients. 53 patients (35%) had VAP and 97 (65%) patients formed the non-VAP group. All biomarkers were significantly higher in the VAP group (p<0.001). The area under the receiver operator characteristic curve for IL-1β was 0.81; IL-8, 0.74; MMP-8, 0.76; MMP-9, 0.79 and HNE, 0.78. A combination of IL-1β and IL-8, at the optimal cut-point, excluded VAP with a sensitivity of 100%, a specificity of 44.3% and a post-test probability of 0% (95% CI 0% to 9.2%).
Conclusions Low BALF IL-1β in combination with IL-8 confidently excludes VAP and could form a rapid biomarker-based rule-out test, with the potential to improve antibiotic stewardship.