Azithromycin Overprescribed for Childhood Pneumonia

November 3, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn -- November 3, 2017 -- A combination of 2 antibiotics is often prescribed to treat community-acquired pneumonia in children but a JAMA Pediatrics study is now showing that using just 1 of the 2 has the same benefit to patients in most cases.

Researchers are reporting this week that amoxicillin alone, rather than combined with azithromycin, is just as effective and a better choice as it relates to efforts to curb antibiotic resistance.

“Combination therapy with azithromycin is unnecessary in most cases of paediatric pneumonia, both because the bacteria targeted by azithromycin are less common than other causes of pneumonia, including viruses, and the effectiveness of azithromycin has not been clearly demonstrated in prior studies,” said lead author Derek Williams, MD, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee. “By minimising antibiotic exposure whenever possible, we can preserve the effectiveness of currently available antibiotics.”

The researchers studied 1,418 children (693 girls and 725 boys) hospitalised for radiologically confirmed community-acquired pneumonia. Amoxicillin was used on 72% of the study patients while 28% received a combination of amoxicillin plus azithromycin.

There were no significant differences in length of stay, intensive care admission, readmissions or recovery at follow-up between the groups. Thus, “the combined therapy showed no benefit over the single therapy of just amoxicillin,” said Dr. Williams.

There were also no differences among important subgroups of children most likely to benefit from the combination therapy, including children with Mycoplasma pneumoniae, those with wheezing and those admitted to intensive care, he added.

“Amoxicillin or the IV equivalent, ampicillin, treat the most common bacteria that cause pneumonia and are recommended by national guidelines as the treatment of choice for most children with pneumonia,” said Dr. Williams. “Azithromycin is used to treat so called atypical pneumonia bacteria, including Mycoplasma pneumoniae. Atypical infections are somewhat common in older children and adolescents, but the benefits of treating these infections is less clear.”

Additional research to identify which children with pneumonia may benefit from macrolide antibiotics like azithromycin is urgently needed, he added.

“Pneumonia accounts for more antibiotic days in US children’s hospitals than any other condition,” said Dr. Williams. “It is a hugely important target for antimicrobial stewardship efforts,” he said. “Reducing unnecessary antibiotic use in paediatric pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses is one strategy to help slow the progression of antimicrobial resistance.”

In most pneumonia cases, the actual causative pathogens may be difficult to identify, and antibiotics are selected empirically. Although about 30% of children hospitalised with pneumonia received combination therapy in this study, atypical pathogens were detected in less than 9%.”

“This apparent discrepancy highlights the challenges of empirical therapy for paediatric pneumonia, and the need to characterise the most common pneumonia pathogens and the effectiveness of antibiotic regimens, to inform empirical treatment,” said senior author Carlos G. Grijalva, MD, Vanderbilt University.

Reference: http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.3225

SOURCE: Vanderbilt University Medical Center

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