Sputum colour as a marker for bacteria in acute exacerbations of COPD: protocol for a systematic review and meta-analysis

Background Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a major cause of years of life lost globally. Acute exacerbations of COPD (AECOPD) drive disease progression, reduce quality of life and are a source of mortality in COPD. Approximately 50% of AECOPD are due to bacterial infections. Diagnosing bacterial infection as the aetiology of AECOPD however remains challenging as investigations are limited by practicality, accuracy and expense. Clinicians have traditionally used sputum colour as a marker of bacterial infection in AECOPD, despite the lack of high-quality evidence for this practice. The aim of this systematic review and meta-analysis is to determine the diagnostic accuracy of sputum colour in the diagnosis of bacterial causes of AECOPD. Methods Articles will be searched for in electronic databases (MEDLINE, Google Scholar Scopus, Web of Science, Africa-Wide, CINAHL and Health Source Nursing Academy) and we will conduct a review of citation indexes and the grey literature. Two reviewers will independently conduct study selection, against pre-defined eligibility criteria, data extraction and quality assessment of included articles using the QUADAS-2 tool. We will perform a meta‐analysis using a bivariate logistic regression model with random effects. We will explore heterogeneity through the visual examination of the forest plots of sensitivities and specificities and through the inclusion of possible sources of heterogeneity as covariates in a meta-regression model if sufficient studies are included in the analysis. We also perform a sensitivity analysis to explore the effect of study quality on our findings. The results of this review will be reported according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analysis statement and will be submitted for peer-review and publication. Discussion The findings of this review will assist clinicians in diagnosing the aetiology of AECOPD and may have important implications for decision making in resource-limited settings, as well as for antimicrobial stewardship. Systematic review registration PROSPERO CRD42019141498