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OBJECTIVES: Optimization of antimicrobial stewardship (AMS) is key to tackling antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which is exacerbated by over-prescription of antibiotics in pediatric Emergency Departments (EDs). We described patterns of empiric antibiotic use in European EDs, and characterized appropriateness and consistency of prescribing. METHODS: Between August 2016 and December 2019 febrile children attending the ED in nine European countries with suspected infection were recruited into the PERFORM (Personalised Risk assessment in Febrile illness to Optimise Real-life Management) study. Empiric systemic antibiotic use was determined in view of assigned final 'bacterial' or 'viral' phenotype. Antibiotics were classified according to WHO AWaRe. RESULTS: Of 2130 febrile episodes (excluding children with non-bacterial/non-viral phenotypes), 1549 (72.7%) were assigned a 'bacterial' and 581 (27.3%) a 'viral' phenotype. A total of 1318/1549 (85.1%) episodes with a 'bacterial' and 269/581 (46.3%) with a 'viral' phenotype received empiric systemic antibiotics (first two days of admission). Of those, the majority (87.8% in 'bacterial' and 87.0% in 'viral' group) received parenteral antibiotics. The top three antibiotics prescribed were third-generation cephalosporins, penicillins and penicillin/beta-lactamase inhibitor combinations. Of those treated with empiric systemic antibiotics in the 'viral' group 216/269 (80.3%) received ≥ one Watch antibiotic. CONCLUSIONS: Differentiating bacterial from viral etiology in febrile illness on initial ED presentation remains challenging, resulting in a substantial over-prescription of antibiotics. A significant proportion of patients with a 'viral' phenotype received systemic antibiotics, predominantly classified as WHO Watch. Rapid and accurate point-of-care tests in the ED differentiating between bacterial and viral etiology, could significantly improve AMS.

Original publication




Journal article


Clin Infect Dis

Publication Date



AWaRe, Antimicrobial Stewardship, Infectious diseases, antibiotic prescription, paediatric emergency care