Background: Systemic glucocorticoids have been widely prescribed for use in infants and young children with acute viral bronchiolitis but the actual benefit of this intervention requires clarification.
Objectives: To systematically review the evidence on the effectiveness of systemic glucocorticoids for the treatment of infants and young children with acute viral bronchiolitis.
Search strategy: Multiple strategies were incorporated to maximize identification of suitable studies. The following databases were searched: the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library Issue 3, 2003); MEDLINE (January 1966 to September 2003); Current Contents (1998 to 2000); EMBASE (January 1990 to September 2003); and Sci Search. Handsearches through cited references and contacts with experts were also used.
Selection criteria: Only randomised controlled trials (RCT) were eligible for inclusion. Studies were included if participants were diagnosed with acute viral bronchiolitis and treated with systemic (oral, intramuscular or intravenous) corticosteroids. Three reviewers independently selected potentially relevant articles. Four reviewers evaluated these studies, determined eligibility and assessed the methodological quality of each RCT.
Data collection and analysis: The primary outcome of interest was length of hospital stay (LOS). Secondary outcomes were: respiratory rate, haemoglobin oxygen saturation, and hospital admission and revisit rates. Data were extracted independently by the four reviewers and the results compiled and compared. Two reviewers reassessed studies to clarify points of discrepancy in the data extraction and database entry processes. Missing data were requested from the authors or calculated from other data presented in the study report.
Main results: There was complete agreement on the inclusion of 13 trials and the exclusion of five studies. Two main study recruitment groups were identified: a) infants and young children within the first 48 hours of hospitalisation (10 trials), and b) outpatient infants and young children who were randomised from the emergency department and who may nor may not have required hospital admission (three trials).A total of 1,198 children aged 0 to 30 months were treated with the equivalent of 0.5 to 10 mg/kg of systemic prednisone for two to seven days. Outcomes of interest were not measured in each RCT. In the pooled analysis of seven trials, there was a decrease in LOS in treated children of 0.38 days (95% confidence interval (CI) -0.81 to 0.05), indicating no significant difference between treatment groups. In the pooled analysis of eight trials, the day three clinical score measured: a standard mean difference (SMD) of -0.20 (95% CI -0.73 to 0.32), indicating no difference between treatment groups. Subgroup analyses for base LOS and clinical score outcomes were performed on infants who were a) less than 12 months of age, b) all respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) positive, c) treated with less than 6 mg/kg of prednisone equivalent throughout the illness and d) first-time wheezers. These were limited by the small number of studies in each subgroup. Hospital admission rates were examined in three trials and no difference was seen between treatment groups (odds ratio (OR) 1.05 (95% CI 0.23 to 4.87). Readmission rates were reported in six studies; with no significant differences between treatment groups. Hospital revisit rates were reported in three studies, with a significant difference between treatment groups reported in one study only. The respiratory rate and haemoglobin oxygen saturation were reported descriptively in six RCTs; no differences were found between groups. Co-interventions (oxygen, supportive fluids and bronchodilators) were used similarly between treatment groups in all RCTs.
Reviewers' conclusions: No benefits were found in either LOS or clinical score in infants and young children treated with systemic glucocorticoids as compared to placebo. There were no differences in these outcomes between treatment groups; either in the pooled groups; either in the pooled analysis or in any of the sub analyses. Among the three studies evaluating hospital admission rates following the initial hospital visit there was no difference between treatment groups. There were no differences found in respiratory rate, haemoglobin oxygen saturation, hospital revisit or readmission rates. Subgroup analyses were significantly limited by the low number of studies in each comparison. Marked study heterogeneity and occasionally conflicting direction of benefit between trials suggests that these results should be interpreted with caution. Specific data on the harm of corticosteroid therapy in this patient population are lacking. Available evidence suggests that corticosteroid therapy is not of benefit in this patient group.