Cephalosporin antibiotics are the most frequently used agents for surgical prophylaxis. Within this class are considerable pharmacokinetic variations that could have significant implications. We used a computer simulation of cephalosporin serum levels to describe concentrations achieved and maintained intraoperatively when the agents are given intravenously "on call" to the operating room or with induction of anesthesia. Intraoperative serum concentrations fall below 1 μg/ml if an operation lasts longer than 2.3, 2.7, 3.8, or 4.0 hours when cephalothin, cephapirin, cefamandole, or cefoxitin, respectively, is given in usual doses upon induction of anesthesia. When the same agents are given intravenously on call to the operating room, intraoperative serum concentrations fall below 1 μg/ml for operations lasting longer than 1.1, 1.5, 2.6, or 2.8 hours, respectively. If cephalothin, cephapirin, cefamandole, or cefoxitin is used, it should be given at induction of anesthesia to provide maximal intraoperative serum concentrations. The longer half-life of cefazolin, ceforanide, cefonicid, and cefuroxime is a potential advantage because serum concentrations of these agents are well above 1 μg/ml for as long as eight to 22 hours even after on-call administration.
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