Could antibiotics be the key to saving the lives of trauma patients?

04 November 2014

Common medicines such as antibiotics and statins could be the answer to saving lives lost through injury, a report in The Lancet published earlier this month has suggested.

The article is written by an international group of academics from the National Insitute for Health Research Surgical Reconstruction and Microbiology Research Centre (NIHR SRMRC), Universities of Birmingham, Warwick, Utrecht and Calgary as well as the Queen Mary University of London and Chicago’s Loyola University. The team reviewed a number of recent and ongoing studies into treatment and survival rates of trauma victims.

According to World Health Organisation figures, trauma accounts for 10 per cent of deaths and 16 per cent of disabilities world-wide – more than malaria tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS combined.

And although the majority of people who suffer trauma are in their 20s, elderly patients are significantly more likely to die from injury than younger patients.

Co-author Prof Janet Lord from the University of Birmingham explains: “Although there is still work to do in understanding how medication can help the body overcome this reaction, there is already evidence that easily available medicines such as antibiotics and statins could increase survival rates.”

The reason, as documented in The Lancet, is because the majority of patients who die following major trauma do so because of the body’s reduced resistance to infection, rather than blood loss.

Prof Lord adds: “Thanks to improvements in the control of bleeding after trauma many more people are now surviving who would have previously died from the initial loss of blood.

“However, the danger is not over once bleeding has stopped and blood pressure has been restored: two-thirds of patients who die following major trauma now do so as a result of causes other than blood loss.

“Trauma causes a reaction that includes an acute, non-specific, immune response that’s associated, paradoxically, with reduced resistance to infection. Therefore, despite best efforts of emergency staff, this ‘healing’ reaction can lead to multiorgan failure. This reaction is even more pronounced in elderly patients.”

The authors of the paper are: Janet Lord, Mark Midwinter and Antonio Belli from the University of Birmingham; Richard Lilford and Yen-Fu Chen from the University of Warwick; Karim Brohi, Queen Mary University of London; Elizabeth Kovacs, Loyola University of Chicago;  Leo Koenderman, University of Utrecht and Paul Kubes from the University of Calgary.

To read the paper in The Lancet please click here.