Surgical Science
Vol.07 No.12(2016), Article ID:73079,7 pages

The Burns Menace: Antibiotics for the Fight against Burns Bacterial Infection, a Systemic Review

Pius Agbenorku1, Richcane Amankwa2, Manolo Agbenorku3, Nana Yaa Odamea Asare4

1Reconstructive Plastic Surgery & Burns Unit, Department of Surgery, Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology, Kumasi, Ghana

2Department of Clinical Microbiology, School of Medical Sciences, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology, Kumasi, Ghana

3Department of Medicine, Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital, Kumasi, Ghana

4Department of Trauma & Orthopaedics, Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital, Kumasi, Ghana


Copyright © 2016 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution International License (CC BY 4.0).

Received: September 12, 2016; Accepted: December 25, 2016; Published: December 28, 2016


Burn wound infection delays wound healing, leading to varying degrees of morbidity and mortality. Various antibiotics are administered to burn patients in burn wound management. The emergence of antibiotic resistance is a menace that costs families and the country. This review seeks to expound on infections related to burn wounds, common bacteria of burn wound infections and choice of antibiotics in burns treatment. Words such as burns, wound infection, burns injury and antibiotics were put into the Google search engine. Only articles related to the subject of burns, burn wound infection and antibiotics were used to write the review. Articles obtained included case reports on burns, research articles, review articles, short notes, briefs, literatures and other articles relating to burns. We found that the choice of antibiotics in the management of burns is an issue of major concern due to the evolution of pathogens causing these infections. The challenge of antibiotic resistance still persists in burns wound management. The commonly used topical antimicrobials included silver sulphadiazine, silver nitrate solution, silver impregnated dressings and mafenide acetate. Mafenide acetate has a wide antibacterial activity and also acts against the usual wound pathogens that were identified: Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus. The role of antibiotic resistance is of major concern. Antibiotics must be administered after culture evidence in order to reduce the chance of increasing evolution of resistant strains of bacteria.


Burn Wounds, Burn Patients, Infection, Antibiotic, Morbidity, Mortality

1. Introduction

Burns are regarded as one of the common forms of trauma. Burn patients require specialized treatment to minimize morbidity and mortality. During the past four decades, management of burns has improved due to advancement in some practices such as fluid resuscitation, proper burn wound care, aseptic techniques employed in managing these patients as well as highly equipped burn centers which has led to a reduction in burns related deaths [1] [2] . Sepsis accounts for 75% of deaths in burn patients with Total Body Surface Area (TBSA) above 40% [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] . Debridement, skin grafting and improved infection management and control have led to better outcomes in burn patient management [8] [9] . In some situations, fungal infections may develop later if proper wound management is not implemented [10] [11] . Infections with anaerobes are much likely in the event of electrical burns [12] . Burn management is very costly with an estimated annual economic impact of USD 11.3 billion [13] . Older age, %Total Body Surface Area and complications of burns such as septicemia, cellulitis, pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome and respiratory failure account for morbidity and mortality [6] . Low socio-economic status, poverty, low educational level, overcrowding and single parenthood all account for increased burn incidence [14] . Often, males are the most affected, as compared to their female counterparts as reported by the National Burn Registry stating that 69.7% males and 30.3% females were affected [13] . Most commonly, burns infection is caused by bacteria mostly Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Other rare causing pathogens are yeasts, filamentous fungi and viruses.

2. Method

The method adopted in this review article is shown in Figure 1.

3. Review

3.1. Burns and Antibiotics

Antibiotics are medications that kill bacteria or stop their growth. These medications are obtained from other microorganisms [15] . An antibiotic may be bacteriostatic or bactericidal. An antibiotic may have the ability to inhibit synthesis of bacteria cell wall or inhibit the conversion of glucose to energy and subsequently, the bacteria dies. When antibiotics are effective against a lot of bacteria, they are referred to as Broad-Spectrum Antibiotics and when effective against few bacteria, they are known as Narrow Spectrum Antibiotics [15] . Bacteria can

Figure 1. Flow chart of method.

be resistant to antibiotics especially if they are usually exposed to the antibiotics; or develop some form of mechanism that prevents them from being susceptible to the antibiotics [15] . These may be through one of the following: altering their structure and neutralizing the antibiotics; the possibility of transferring gene codes from bacteria which have never been exposed to a particular antibiotic to acquire resistance from bacteria which already have been exposed to the antibiotics and hence these bacteria are shielded [15] . Treating burn patients with wound infection is becoming very difficult especially when resistance to antibiotics sets in. Hence, the use of antibiotics as prophylaxis other than treatment is not advisable as it enhances emergence of resistant organisms.

3.2. Main Antibiotics Classifications

The major classification of Antibiotics are listed and expounded on in Table 1.

4. Discussion

Introduction or invention of antibiotics, antifungals and topical antimicrobials in the management of burns has played much role in the decrease of mortality and morbidity associated with burns. More so, surgical procedures such as excision and skin grafting have all helped to reduce burn mortality and morbidity and thus increasing survival rate of patients following burn injury.

4.1. Antibacterial Resistance

There is the emergence of resistant strains which implies increased hospital stay, economical burden, high morbidity and mortality. For this reason, there is a continual research in providing very good treatment modalities in burns management that will be effective against the emerging resistance strains of bacteria [16] . Cosgrove (2006) reported that patients with pathogens that are resistant to antimicrobials stay longer in hospital than patients with bacteria which are

Table 1. Classification of antibiotics in burn management.

highly susceptible to antimicrobials [17] . There is therefore a continual need for the prevention of spread of resistant strains. It is advised that regular antibiotic surveillance should be undertaken at burn centers to guide drug choice if there is indication of infection of the burns wound.

4.2. Wound Treatment

Aminoglycosides may be used to treat infections caused by Gram negatives. For some decades now, burn patients are continually being managed properly with application of topical creams (antimicrobials) and timely administration of antibiotics as well and early surgical intervention such as excision and skin grafting. All these strategies have contributed to the increasing survival rates of burns victims. Nevertheless, the emergence of resistance of pathogens to antibiotics is a very challenging issue in patients admitted at Burns centers [18] .

4.3. Nosocomial Infections

Due to the breach in the skin barrier, burns victims are exposed to nosocomial infection. Cross infection is also common, usually caused by the Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus [19] . Hospital acquired infections are also of major concern in persons with burns. These nosocomial infections are attributed with increased length of stay, implying increased costs [20] . Organisms causing nosocomial infections are mostly part of the patients’ own normal flora, the environment and healthcare provider [21] . Sterilization of instruments, bed linens, and staff hygiene are steps in preventing infection in burn patients.

Infection of burns may be influenced by age, sex, underlying conditions such as liver or kidney disease, and nutrition [22] . Regular dressing changes and timely surgical intervention helps to reduce length of stay, thereby minimizing cost for the burns patient.

4.4. Antimicrobials

Commonly used topical antimicrobials include silver sulphadiazine, silver nitrate solution, silver impregnated dressings and mafenide acetate. Silver sulphadiazine is active against Gram positives and negatives and also shows some activity against Candida [23] . Silver nitrate used at an aqueous concentration of 0.5% is also effective against Gram positives and negatives and Candida [24] . Mafenide acetate has been reported as having wide antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus and Pseudomonas spp. [25] . Sources of pathogens that are able to infect the burn wounds are from the respiratory and gastrointestinal flora, endogenous and the environment [26] . Good nutrition following burns is advisable since it promotes wound healing. Wound closure does not occur quickly in burns as with other injuries due to a much extended catabolic stage. Hence to promote quick wound healing, much protein intake should be adhered to [27] . Topical application of honey to burn wounds provides a soothing effect. Honey with its antibacterial and antioxidant activity promotes healing of infected deep wounds. It enhances re-epithelialization and quickly decreases the burn wound area [28] .

5. Conclusion

Burn injury continues to be an issue of major concern in both developing and developed countries with most occurrences in developing countries. Burn wound infection greatly affects its victims often resulting in long periods of hospitalization and rehabilitation. Proper management of burn patients is therefore necessary to ensure their well-being and reduce morbidity and mortality. As much as proper management of burns is critical, the role of antibiotics is an issue of major concern. Antibiotics must be administered after culture and sensitivity evidence, in order to reduce the chance of increasing evolution of resistant strains of bacteria.


The authors are grateful to Miss Angelina Effah for extensively editing this manuscript.

Cite this paper

Agbenorku, P., Amankwa, R., Agbenorku, M. and Asare, N.Y.O. (2016) The Burns Menace: Antibiotics for the Fight against Burns Bacterial In- fection, a Systemic Review. Surgical Science, 7, 532-538.


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