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Background: Early and appropriate empiric antibiotic treatment of patients suspected of having sepsis is associated with reduced mortality. The increasing prevalence of antimicrobial resistance reduces the efficacy of empiric therapy guidelines derived from population data. This problem is particularly severe for children in developing country settings. We hypothesized that by applying machine learning approaches to readily collect patient data, it would be possible to obtain individualized predictions for targeted empiric antibiotic choices. Methods and Findings: We analysed blood culture data collected from a 100-bed children's hospital in North-West Cambodia between February 2013 and January 2016. Clinical, demographic and living condition information was captured with 35 independent variables. Using these variables, we used a suite of machine learning algorithms to predict Gram stains and whether bacterial pathogens could be treated with common empiric antibiotic regimens: i) ampicillin and gentamicin; ii) ceftriaxone; iii) none of the above. 243 patients with bloodstream infections were available for analysis. We found that the random forest method had the best predictive performance overall as assessed by the area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUC). The random forest method gave an AUC of 0.80 (95%CI 0.66-0.94) for predicting susceptibility to ceftriaxone, 0.74 (0.59-0.89) for susceptibility to ampicillin and gentamicin, 0.85 (0.70-1.00) for susceptibility to neither, and 0.71 (0.57-0.86) for Gram stain result. Most important variables for predicting susceptibility were time from admission to blood culture, patient age, hospital versus community-acquired infection, and age-adjusted weight score. Conclusions: Applying machine learning algorithms to patient data that are readily available even in resource-limited hospital settings can provide highly informative predictions on antibiotic susceptibilities to guide appropriate empiric antibiotic therapy. When used as a decision support tool, such approaches have the potential to improve targeting of empiric therapy, patient outcomes and reduce the burden of antimicrobial resistance.

Original publication




Journal article


Wellcome open research

Publication Date





Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit, Faculty of Tropical Medicine, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand.