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Chloramphenicol: Nursing Pharmacology



Miscellaneous protein synthesis inhibitor
Binds to the 50S subunit of the bacterial ribosome, thereby inhibiting protein synthesis and preventing bacterial growth
Alternative treatment of bacterial meningitis, typhus, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever (rarely used due to severe toxicity)
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea 
  • Neurotoxicity 
  • Metabolic acidosis 
  • Blood dyscrasias 
  • Infants: gray syndrome 
  • Pregnancy, breastfeeding, newborns 
  • G6PD deficiency, acute porphyria 
  • Inhibitor of the cytochrome p450 family: toxicity (e.g., warfarin, sulfonylureas, phenytoin) 
  • Decreases the effect of ceftazidime, estriol, and vitamin B12 
Assessment and monitoring 
  • Vital signs; especially temperature 
  • Current symptoms: headaches, stiff neck, confusion, light sensitivity 
  • Laboratory test results: renal and liver function, CBC, blood cultures 
  • Diagnostic results: cerebral spinal fluid analysis

  • Patient IV 
  • Calculate the dose in mg/kg/day 
  • Administer prescribed vitamin B12 supplement 

  • CBC and serum drug concentration 
  • Insertion site 
  • Side effects 
    • Neurotoxicity 
    • Superinfection 
    • Bone marrow suppression 
  • Evaluate: infection resolution and absence of symptoms 

Client education 
  • Purpose of medication: to treat the infection causing their symptoms 
  • Administered IV every six hours 
  • Side effects 
    • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea 
    • Report: extremity numbness, tingling or visual changes 


Chloramphenicol is a broad spectrum antibiotic that is active against both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria.

However, due to its severe toxicity, chloramphenicol is no longer used as the first medication of choice in most countries with access to safer antibiotics; instead, this medication is typically used when other antibiotics are ineffective or contraindicated.

Nowadays, chloramphenicol is most often used intravenously, and since it readily crosses the blood-brain barrier, it may be used to treat bacterial meningitis in clients who have major hypersensitivity reactions to penicillin.

Additionally, it can be considered for the treatment of serious rickettsial infections, such as typhus and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Once administered, chloramphenicol has a bacteriostatic effect by reversibly binding to the 50S subunit of the bacterial ribosome, thereby inhibiting bacterial protein synthesis, and ultimately stopping bacterial growth.

Now, chloramphenicol may cause side effects like gastrointestinal disturbances, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Additionally, it has a boxed warning for blood dyscrasia, including fatal aplastic anemia, hypoplastic anemia, and bone marrow suppression, and it can increase the risk of developing superinfections.

Other side effects of chloramphenicol include severe metabolic acidosis; as well as neurotoxicity, which can manifest as optic neuritis or peripheral neuropathy.

Finally, infants lack a hepatic enzyme involved in the metabolism of chloramphenicol, so the medication may accumulate in their body until it reaches toxic levels.

As a result, administering chloramphenicol to infants can lead to gray syndrome, which presents with anemia and cyanosis.

In severe cases, there may also be vomiting, hypothermia, limp body, cardiovascular collapse, and eventually death if not treated promptly.

Now, as far as contraindications go, chloramphenicol is not recommended for use during pregnancy, breastfeeding, or in newborns.

In addition, chloramphenicol should be used with caution in clients with glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase or G6PD deficiency, as well as in clients with acute porphyria, since this medication could increase the risk of developing an acute porphyria attack.

Regarding interactions, chloramphenicol is also a weak inhibitor of the hepatic enzymes in the cytochrome P450 family, so it can interfere with the metabolism of certain medications, including warfarin, sulfonylureas, and phenytoin, which may reach toxic levels. In addition, chloramphenicol can decrease the effect of ceftazidime, estriol, and vitamin B12.

Okay, when caring for a client prescribed intravenous chloramphenicol for bacterial meningitis, start by performing a baseline assessment including vital signs, and current symptoms like headaches, stiff neck, confusion, and light sensitivity.

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  2. "Pharmacology" Elsevier Health Sciences (2014)
  3. "Mosby's 2021 Nursing Drug Reference" Mosby (2020)
  4. "Saunders Comprehensive Review for the NCLEX-RN Examination" Saunders (2016)
  5. "Chloramphenicol" StatPearls (2021)
  6. "Chloramphenicol Injection" (2019)
  7. "Chloramphenicol" Merck Manual Professional Version (2020)
  8. "Chloramphenicol Injection" MedlinePlus (2016)