What to Know About Ceftriaxone

Third-generation antibiotic used against antibiotic-resistant bacteria

In This Article

Ceftriaxone is a type of antibiotic drug used to treat bacterial infections. It belongs to a class of drugs called cephalosporin antibiotics. These third-generation antibiotics are used to treat bacterial strains that are commonly resistant to other types of antibiotics.

Ceftriaxone is administered either by intramuscular injection (into a large muscle) or intravenously (into a vein). Although it is generally well-tolerated, ceftriaxone may cause rash, diarrhea, and adverse changes in the white blood cell count.

Ceftriaxone, sold under the brand name Rocephin and available as a generic, was first approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1982.

Uses

Ceftriaxone is a broad-spectrum antibiotic, meaning that it can treat many different types of bacteria. Ceftriaxone works by breaking apart amino acids that make up the cell wall, irreparably damaging the bacteria and leading to rapid cell death.

Ceftriaxone is mainly used to treat skin, respiratory, soft tissue, urinary tract, and ear/nose/throat infections caused by bacteria such as:

These are the bacterial types that tend to be resistant to earlier-generation antibiotics.

Antibiotic resistance can develop if an antibiotic is overused. If a bacteria becomes resistant to an antibiotic, that antibiotic (and often others like it) will be less able to cure an infection.

There are some bacteria types that ceftriaxone cannot treat. These include Enterobacter species, Listeria monocytogenesPseudomonas aeruginosa, and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). For these infections, fourth-generation cephalosporin antibiotics like cefepime may be used.

Types of Infections Treated

Although ceftriaxone and other third-generation cephalosporins are effective in treating a wide variety of bacterial infections, they tend to be reserved for harder-to-treat cases. Doing so prevents the overuse of the drug and can slow the development of ceftriaxone resistance.

Among the infections for which ceftriaxone is common used:

Ceftriaxone is also sometimes used before surgery to reduce the risk of postoperative infection. This is referred to as preoperative prophylaxis.

Off-Label Uses

Ceftriaxone and other antibiotics cannot treat viral, fungal, or parasitic infections. They are only used to treat bacterial infections.

With that said, ceftriaxone appears to have neuroprotective properties that may aid in the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Huntington disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Other studies are exploring whether ceftriaxone can aid in the treatment of alcohol and opioid addiction or help relieve chronic pain.

It is unclear if ceftriaxone can aid in the treatment of any of these conditions. Until further evidence can be found, ceftriaxone should only be used as indicated under the direction of a doctor.

Before Taking

Before prescribing ceftriaxone, the doctor will perform tests to identify which bacterium is causing the infection. These may involve a blood or urine test (such as those used to diagnose gonorrhea) or a bacteria culture (including those used to diagnose strep throat).

Other more severe infections, like sepsis or bacterial meningitis, may require antimicrobial susceptibility testing (AST) to determine how resistant a bacteria is available antibiotic drugs.

There are different methods a lab can use, including blood, urine, sputum, stool, and spinal fluid tests that help identify the genotype (genetic makeup) of the bacterium and culture-based tests that identify the phenotype (physical makeup) of the bacterium.

These insights can help the pathologist predict with a high level of accuracy whether the bacterium is susceptible to ceftriaxone or if different antibiotics are better suited for treatment.

Precautions and Contraindications

The only absolute contraindication for ceftriaxone use is a known allergy to the antibiotic itself and any inactive ingredient in the formulation.

Having an allergy to other third-generation cephalosporins does not mean that you will be allergic to ceftriaxone. Nevertheless, ceftriaxone should be used with caution if you are. These include cephalosporin antibiotics like:

  • Cefazolin
  • Cefaclor
  • Cefdinir
  • Cefuroxime
  • Cephalexin
  • Duricef (cefadroxil)
  • Maxipime (cefepime)
  • Suprax (cefixime)
  • Teflaro (ceftaroline fosamil)

There is a risk of cross-reactive allergy to ceftriaxone if you are allergic to penicillin. If you've had a severe allergic reaction to penicillin in the past, you should never use ceftriaxone.

Ceftriaxone should not be used in newborns with hyperbilirubinemia (high bilirubin). Doing so can cause bilirubin encephalitis, an inflammatory brain condition that can lead to hearing loss, brain damage, or death.

Ceftriaxone should never be used with intravenous calcium preparations (including Ringer's solution) in newborns younger than 28 days. Doing so can cause potentially fatal injury to the lungs and kidneys.

Ceftriaxone is a Pregnancy Category B drug, meaning that it is generally considered safe for use. Even so, speak with your doctor to understand the benefits and risks of treatment if you are pregnant, planning to get pregnant, or breastfeeding.

Dosage

Ceftriaxone comes either as a sterile powder that is reconstituted with a liquid or a frozen premixed solution that is thawed before use. The drug can then be injected into a large muscle or delivered intravenously into a vein. Of the two formulations:

  • Ceftriaxone intramuscular injections come two strengths: 250 milligrams per milliliter (mg/mL) or 350 mg/mL.
  • Ceftriaxone intravenous solution is prepared at a concentration of 100 mg/mL.

The recommended dose can vary by age and the type of infection being treated.

Adults

Ceftriaxone is used to treat both complicated and uncomplicated bacterial infections in adults. The recommended ceftriaxone dose for adults is between 250 mg and 2 grams per day, delivered as either a single dose or two equally divided doses given 12 hours apart. If needed, up to 4 grams can be used daily.

The dosage and duration of treatment can vary by the infection being treated. Some like gonorrhea only required a single 250-mg intramuscular injection. Others may require prolonged intravenous therapy.

As a general rule, ceftriaxone should be continued for at least two days after the symptoms of the infection have cleared. This usually takes between four and 14 days. Complicated infections may take longer.

If used for preoperative prophylaxis, ceftriaxone should be given as a single 1-gram intravenous dose, anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours before surgery.

Children

Ceftriaxone is generally indicated for the treatment of severe bacterial infections in babies, toddlers, and younger children.

  • For serious infections other than meningitis, the recommended daily dose is calculated at 50 to 75 mg per kilogram (mg/kg) and given in two equally divided doses 12 hours apart. The total daily dose should not exceed 2 grams per day.
  • For bacterial meningitis, the recommended daily dose is calculated at 100 mg/kg and given in two equally divided doses 12 hours apart. No more than 4 grams should be used daily.
  • For bacterial otitis media, a single intramuscular injection calculated at 50 mg/kg should be given.

Teenagers with certain bacterial infections, such as gonorrhea or syphilis, may be treated in the same way as adults.

Modifications

Ceftriaxone is cleared from the body both by the kidneys and liver. Although the dose does not need to be adjusted for people with kidney or liver disease, the total daily dose should never exceed 2 grams per day.

How to Take and Store

Ceftriaxone treatment is not self-administered. The treatment is delivered by a qualified health professional in a doctor's office, clinic, or hospital.

Intramuscular injections can be delivered into the buttocks, thigh, or other large muscles. Intravenous injections can either be injected directly into a vein or be infused through an intravenous (IV) line over 30 minutes or more.

Side Effects

Like all drugs, ceftriaxone may cause side effects. The common side effects of ceftriaxone are similar to those of other injected or intravenous antibiotics.

Common

Ceftriaxone will not cause symptoms in everyone but is more likely to do so at higher doses. The side effects affecting at least 1% of users include:

  • Pain and redness at the injection site
  • Warmth, tightness, and hardening of skin following intravenous use
  • Diarrhea, ranging from mild to severe
  • Rash (typically widespread with flat, red areas of skin covered with tiny bumps)
  • Abnormal white blood cell counts, most commonly eosinophilia (high eosinophils) and leukopenia (low leukocytes)
  • Abnormal red blood cells counts, primarily thrombocytosis (excessive platelets)

Less common side effects include headaches, dizziness, itching, fever, nausea, vomiting, vaginal inflammation (vaginitis), and thrush (candidiasis). Children can sometimes develop gallstones due to an overproduction of bile.

Severe

On rare occasions, ceftriaxone may cause a severe and potentially life-threatening drug reaction known as Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS) or toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN). Both are characterized by the rapid and widespread blistering and delamination (peeling) of skin.

SJS and TEN typically start with flu-like symptoms, including high fever, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, cough, body aches, and red, swollen eyes. Over the course of hours or days, a tender or painful rash may develop starting from the trunk and moving outward to the face and limbs. Blistering will soon occur, followed by the widespread peeling of skin in sheets.

If not treated as a medical emergency, SJS and TEN can cause massive dehydration, sepsis, shock, pneumonia, multiple organ failure, and death.

When to Call 911

Call 911 or seek emergency care if you develop the following after receiving ceftriaxone by injection or intravenously:

  • Sudden and widespread skin pain
  • Rapidly spreading red or purplish rash
  • Painful mouth sores that make it hard to swallow
  • Painful skin blisters on the skin, eyes, and genitals (but usually not the scalp, palms, or soles)
  • Sunburned-looking skin that peels off in sheets

Cephalosporin antibiotics and penicillin are two of the more common drugs causes of SJS and TEN.

Warnings and Interactions

Severe cases of hemolytic anemia have been reported in people on ceftriaxone therapy. This is a form of anemia in which red blood cells are destroyed faster than they can be made. Treatment should be stopped immediately for anyone who develops anemia while on ceftriaxone and discontinued until the underlying cause is identified.

Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea has been reported with almost every antibacterial agent, caused when the drug alters the natural flora of the gut and allows C. difficile to proliferate. If diarrhea develops during ceftriaxone therapy, treatment should be stopped.

If needed, antibiotics like Flagyl (metronidazole) or Dificid (fidaxomicin) can be used to resolve the C. difficile infection. On rare occasions, C. difficile-associated diarrhea can lead to pseudomembranous colitis, the potentially fatal inflammation of the large intestine.

Drug Interactions

Ceftriaxone should not be used with any the following calcium-containing solutions in persons of any age (and avoided without exception in newborns):

  • Calcium acetate
  • Calcium chloride
  • Calcium gluceptate
  • Calcium gluconate
  • Lactated Ringer's solution

There are instances when these calcium-containing solutions may be necessary, such as during pregnancy or surgery. If so, the dose of ceftriaxone can be separated from that of the calcium-containing product to minimize the risk.

Other drugs that can interact with ceftriaxone include:

  • Amsacrine, a chemotherapy drug used to treat some types of lymphoma
  • Aminoglycoside antibiotics, including Gentak (gentamicin) and Tobrex (tobramycin)
  • Diflucan (fluconazole), an antifungal drug
  • Vancocin (vancomycin), a glycopeptide antibiotic

To avoid interactions, always let your doctor know about any drug you are taking, whether it is prescription, over-the-counter, herbal, or recreational.

A Word From Verywell

Ceftriaxone is an important and effective antibiotic, but one that has its limitations. It used inappropriately, it can cause more harm than good.

To reduce your risk of harm, let your doctor know about any allergic reaction you have had to an antibiotic, and be sure that it is notated your electronic medical records (EMR). If you've ever had a severe reaction to ceftriaxone, penicillin, or any antibiotic drug, including SJS, TEN, or anaphylaxis, consider getting a medical ID bracelet so that medical staff are aware of this in the event of an emergency.

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