Infections, due to a dysfunctional immune response, pose a great risk to patients with decompensated cirrhosis and herald the beginning of the terminal phase of this disease. Infections typically result from breaches in innate immune barriers and inadequate clearance by immune cells. This leads to bacterial and bacterial product translocation to the systemic circulation, which is already primed by ongoing hepatic inflammation in patients with cirrhosis, who are particularly prone to developing organ failure in the presence of an infection. Early identification of bacterial infection, along with the prompt use of appropriate antibiotics, have reduced the mortality associated with certain infections in patients with decompensated cirrhosis. Judicious use of antibiotic therapy remains imperative given the emergence of multidrug-resistant infections in the cirrhotic population. Important research over the last few years has identified molecular targets on immune cells that may enhance their function, and theoretically prevent infections. Clinical trials are ongoing to delineate the beneficial effects of targeted molecules from their off-target effects. Herein, we review the mechanisms that predispose patients with cirrhosis to bacterial infections, the clinical implications of infections and potential targets for the prevention or treatment of infections in this vulnerable population.
Schalk Van der Merwe, Shilpa Chokshi, Christine Bernsmeier, Agustin Albillos