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Antibiotics for preventing complications in children with measles

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008 Jul 16;(3):CD001477.

Kabra SK, Lodha R, Hilton DJ.

Pediatric Pulmonology Division, Department of Pediatrics, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Ansari Nagar, New Delhi, India, 110029. skkabra@rediffmail.com

BACKGROUND: Measles is the leading killer among vaccine-preventable diseases, responsible for an estimated 44% of the 1.7 million vaccine-preventable deaths among children annually. 

OBJECTIVES: To assess the effects of antibiotics given to children with measles to prevent complications and reduce pneumonia, other morbidities and mortality. 

SEARCH STRATEGY: In this 2008 update we searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (The Cochrane Library 2008, Issue 1) MEDLINE (1966 to January week 1, 2008), EMBASE (1980 to December 2007) and the National Research Register (Issue 3, 2007). 

SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and quasi-RCTs comparing antibiotics with placebo or no treatment to prevent complications in children with measles. 

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors independently extracted data and assessed trial quality. 

MAIN RESULTS: Seven trials with 1385 children were included. Pooled study data showed that the incidence of pneumonia was lower in the treatment group compared to the control group. However, the difference was not statistically significant. In children who received antibiotics, 1.9% developed pneumonia, while in the control group 6% developed pneumonia (OR 0.28; 95% CI 0.06 to 1.25). The one trial that showed an increase in the rate of pneumonia with antibiotics was conducted in 1942 and compared oral sulfathiazole with symptomatic treatment. If the results of this trial are removed from the meta-analysis, and the remaining six studies are combined, there is a statistically significant reduction in the incidence of pneumonia in children receiving antibiotics (OR 0.17; 95% CI 0.05 to 0.65). The number needed to treat to prevent one episode of pneumonia is 24 patients. The incidence of other complications was significantly lower in children receiving antibiotics: purulent otitis media (OR 0.34; 95% CI 0.16 to 0.73) and tonsillitis (OR 0.08; 95% CI 0.01 to 0.72). There was no difference in the incidence of conjunctivitis (OR 0.39; 95% CI 0.15 to 1.0), diarrhea (OR 0.53; 95% CI 0.23 to 1.22) or croup (OR 0.16; 95% CI 0.01 to 4.06). 

AUTHORS’ CONCLUSIONS: This review suggests a beneficial effect of antibiotics in preventing complications such as pneumonia, purulent otitis media and tonsillitis in children with measles. On the basis of this review, it is not possible to give definitive guidelines on the type of antibiotic, duration, or the day of initiation. Use of penicillin or co-trimoxazole may be considered. There is a need to generate more evidence by well planned RCTs to answer these questions.

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