Antibiotics for uncomplicated skin abscesses: systematic review and network meta-analysis Academic Article uri icon

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  • ObjectiveTo assess the impact of adjunctive antibiotic therapy on uncomplicated skin abscesses.DesignSystematic review and network meta-analysis.Data sourcesMedline, Embase, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials and selectionA BMJ Rapid Recommendation panel provided input on design, important outcomes and the interpretation of the results. Eligible randomised controlled trials (RCTs) included a comparison of antibiotics against no antibiotics or a comparison of different antibiotics in patients with uncomplicated skin abscesses, and reported outcomes prespecified by the linked guideline panel.Review methodsReviewers independently screened abstracts and full texts for eligibility, assessed risk of bias and extracted data. We performed random-effects meta-analyses that compared antibiotics with no antibiotics, along with a limited number of prespecified subgroup hypotheses. We also performed network meta-analysis with a Bayesian framework to compare effects of different antibiotics. Quality of evidence was assessed with The Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) approach.ResultsFourteen RCTs including 4198 patients proved eligible. Compared with no antibiotics, antibiotics probably lower the risk of treatment failure (OR 0.58, 95% CI 0.37 to 0.90; low quality), recurrence within 1 month (OR 0.48, 95% CI 0.30 to 0.77; moderate quality), hospitalisation (OR 0.55, 95% CI 0.32 to 0.94; moderate quality) and late recurrence (OR 0.64, 95% CI 0.48 to 0.85; moderate quality). However, relative to no use, antibiotics probably increase the risk of gastrointestinal side effects (trimethoprim and sulfamethoxazole (TMP-SMX): OR 1.28, 95% CI 1.04 to 1.58; moderate quality; clindamycin: OR 2.29, 95% CI 1.35 to 3.88; high quality) and diarrhoea (clindamycin: OR 2.71, 95% CI 1.50 to 4.89; high quality). Cephalosporins did not reduce the risk of treatment failure compared with placebo (moderate quality).ConclusionsIn patients with uncomplicated skin abscesses, moderate-to-high quality evidence suggests TMP-SMX or clindamycin confer a modest benefit for several important outcomes, but this is offset by a similar risk of adverse effects. Clindamycin has a substantially higher risk of diarrhoea than TMP-SMX. Cephalosporins are probably not effective.


  • Wang, Wen
  • Chen, Wenwen
  • Liu, Yanmei
  • Siemieniuk, Reed Alexander C
  • Li, Ling
  • Martínez, Juan Pablo Díaz
  • Guyatt, Gordon
  • Sun, Xin

publication date

  • February 2018