Chronic infections are associated with exacerbation in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The major objective of the management of these patients is the prevention and effective treatment of exacerbations. Patients that have increased sputum production, associated with purulence and worsening shortness of breath, are the ones that will benefit from antibiotic therapy. It is important to give the appropriate antibiotic therapy to prevent treatment failure, relapse, and the emergence of resistant pathogens. In some patients, systemic corticosteroids are also indicated to improve symptoms. In order to identify which patients are more likely to benefit from these therapies, clinical guidelines recommend stratifying patients based on their risk factor associated with poor outcome or recurrence. It has been identified that patients with more severe disease, recurrent infection and presence of purulent sputum are the ones that will be more likely to benefit from this therapy. Another approach related to disease prevention could be the use of prophylactic antibiotics during steady state condition. Some studies have evaluated the continuous or the intermittent use of antibiotics in order to prevent exacerbations. Due to increased bacterial resistance to antibiotics and the presence of side effects, several antibiotics have been developed to be nebulized for both treatment and prevention of acute exacerbations. There is a need to design long-term studies to evaluate these interventions in the natural history of the disease. The purpose of this publication is to review our understanding of the role of bacterial infection in patients with COPD exacerbation, the role of antibiotics, and future interventions.
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