Route and duration of antibiotic therapy in acute cellulitis: A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effectiveness and harms of antibiotic treatment


      • There is no evidence to support intravenous or prolonged antibiotic therapy (>5 days) in cellulitis.
      • Harms of intravenous and prolonged antibiotic treatment are not quantified.
      • Long-term outcomes after 30 days, including recurrence, have largely been neglected.
      • Prior episodes, comorbidities and illness severity can predict treatment outcome.
      • Research into patient-tailored antibiotic therapy for cellulitis must be a priority.



      Compared with guideline recommendations, antibiotic overuse is common in treating cellulitis. We conducted a systematic review and meta-analyses on antibiotic route and duration of treatment for cellulitis in adults and children.


      We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE and trial registries from inception to Dec 11, 2019 for interventional and observational studies of antibiotic treatment for cellulitis. Exclusions included case series/reports, pre-septal/orbital cellulitis and non-English language articles. Random-effects meta-analyses were used to produce summary relative risk (RR) estimates for our primary outcome of clinical response.




      We included 47/8423 articles, incorporating data from eleven trials (1855 patients) in two meta-analyses. The overall risk of bias was moderate. Only two trials compared the same antibiotic agent in each group. We found no evidence of difference in clinical response rates for antibiotic route or duration (RR(oral:IV)=1.12, 95%CI 0.98–1.27, I2=32% and RR(shorter:longer)=0.99, 95%CI 0•96–1.03, I2 = 0%, respectively). Findings were consistent in observational studies. Follow-up data beyond 30 days were sparse.


      The evidence base for antibiotic treatment decisions in cellulitis is flawed by biased comparisons, short follow-up and lack of data around harms of antibiotic overuse. Future research should focus on developing patient-tailored antibiotic prescribing for cellulitis to reduce unnecessary antibiotic use.

      Graphical abstract


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