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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Safety and effectiveness of colistin compared with tobramycin for multi-drug resistant Acinetobacter baumannii infections

Ronald Gounden1, Colleen Bamford2, Richard van Zyl-Smit3, Karen Cohen1 and Gary Maartens1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of medicine, division of clinical pharmacology, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa

2 Department of clinical laboratory sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa

3 Department of medicine, division of respiratory medicine University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2009, 9:26  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-9-26

Published: 9 March 2009



Nosocomial infections due to multi-drug resistant Acinetobacter baumannii are often treated with colistin, but there are few data comparing its safety and efficacy with other antimicrobials.


A retrospective cohort study of patients treated with colistin or tobramycin for A. baumannii infections in intensive care units (ICUs) at Groote Schuur hospital. Colistin was used for A. baumannii isolates which were resistant to all other available antimicrobials. In the tobramycin group, 53% of the isolates were only susceptible to tobramycin and colistin. We assessed ICU mortality, nephrotoxicity and time to the first negative culture.


32 patients, with similar admission APACHE scores and serum creatinine, were treated with each antimicrobial. There were no significant differences between the colistin and tobramycin groups in ICU mortality (p = 0.54), nephrotoxicity (p = 0.67), change in creatinine from baseline to highest subsequent value (p = 0.11) and time to microbiological clearance (p = 0.75). The hazard ratio for total in-hospital survival in patients treated with colistin compared to tobramycin was 0.43 (95% CI 0.19 to 0.99).


Our study suggests that colistin and tobramycin have similar risks of nephrotoxicity and are equally efficacious. Colistin is an acceptable antibiotic for the treatment of A. baumanii infections when the organism is resistant to other available antimicrobials.