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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Procalcitonin for diagnosis of infection and guide to antibiotic decisions: past, present and future

Philipp Schuetz1*, Werner Albrich2 and Beat Mueller2

Author Affiliations

1 Harvard School of Public Health, 667 Huntington Ave, 02115 Boston (MA), USA

2 University Department of Medicine, Kantonsspital Aarau, Tellstrasse, CH-5001 Aarau, Switzerland

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BMC Medicine 2011, 9:107  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-9-107

Published: 22 September 2011


There are a number of limitations to using conventional diagnostic markers for patients with clinical suspicion of infection. As a consequence, unnecessary and prolonged exposure to antimicrobial agents adversely affect patient outcomes, while inappropriate antibiotic therapy increases antibiotic resistance. A growing body of evidence supports the use of procalcitonin (PCT) to improve diagnosis of bacterial infections and to guide antibiotic therapy. For patients with upper and lower respiratory tract infection, post-operative infections and for severe sepsis patients in the intensive care unit, randomized-controlled trials have shown a benefit of using PCT algorithms to guide decisions about initiation and/or discontinuation of antibiotic therapy. For some other types of infections, observational studies have shown promising first results, but further intervention studies are needed before use of PCT in clinical routine can be recommended. The aim of this review is to summarize the current evidence for PCT in different infections and clinical settings, and discuss the reliability of this marker when used with validated diagnostic algorithms.