Study objectives: It is difficult to determine, in the child with a long-term tracheostomy, when bacterial airway colonization has progressed to a respiratory infection requiring antibiotic treatment. Our aim was to investigate whether there is a consensus regarding this and related chronic care issues among clinicians treating these patients.
Design and setting: A questionnaire asking about practices regarding use of tracheal aspirate cultures and antibiotics was distributed to 47 pediatric pulmonary centers.
Participants: Individuals representing 34 centers (72%), caring for 10 to 400 patients, responded.
Results: At 65% of centers, management is variable, dependent on the patient's underlying condition. The most common indications to obtain a culture were change in secretions (91%) or fever without an obvious source (21 centers). Indications to treat with antibiotics included many leukocytes in secretions (21 centers) or a respiratory illness (18 centers). When treating, 97% prescribe antibiotics empirically, most often enterally; nine centers use inhaled antibiotics. In most centers (79%), management is often done by telephone.
Conclusions: Although pediatric pulmonologists tend to have similar approaches to assessment and management of suspected respiratory tract infections in tracheostomized children, no clear consensus exists, and much of current practice is empirical. To optimize care of these patients, studies should be conducted to develop criteria to objectively differentiate bacterial airway "colonization" from "infection."