Oropharyngeal colonization: epidemiology, treatment and ventilator-associated pneumonia prevention
Oropharyngeal (OP) colonization and ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) mechanisms are tightly linked. A significant within-population variation in OP colonization has been described, with its composition being dependent from patients’ severity. For instance, healthy subjects have a very low rate in Gram-negative bacteria (GNB) colonization, while its rate rises in comorbid patients, reaching high proportions in ICU patients. Various factors can be put forward to explain the modifications of hospital acquired OP. ICU patients might suffer from underlying diseases; the gastric reflux induced by the presence of nasogastric tubes and the patients’ position influences OP colonization; salivary composition might influence OP content, as it modulates bacterial adhesion and induces reversible bacterial changes enhancing bacterial binding. The transition from OP colonization to VAP has been shown in numerous studies, with the digestive tract acting as a filter, or as a reservoir. Some therapies have been investigated to modulate OP colonization, in order to reduce the risk for VAP. Among those, mammalian antimicrobial peptides have been shown effective in reducing GNB colonization in healthy subjects, but failed in preventing VAP in ICU patients. The widely used chlorhexidine was tested in numerous trials. Data on its efficacy are conflicting, and meta-analyses yield discordant results. Above all, several drawbacks have aroused: a poor tolerance of concentrated solutions; an increased risk of death in the less severe patients; and a reduced susceptibility towards chlorhexidine of number of VAP pathogens. Proanthocyanidins, used to prevent Escherichia coli adhesion to the urothelium, have been tested in mice model of pneumonia with interesting results. Some complementary data are needed before moving to clinical research. Future research paths should include a reappraisal of OP colonization; finding better formulations for chlorhexidine; define the best populations to target oral decontamination and developing other strategies to prevent and treat OP colonization.