Background: Nosocomial infection is a major risk for premature infants with very low birth weights. One reason for their susceptibility to infection may be antibody deficiency, since there is little transfer of maternal IgG to the fetus before 32 weeks' gestation.
Methods: We conducted a multicenter, double-blind study of neonates weighing 500 to 1750 g at birth. A total of 588 neonates were randomly assigned, with stratification for birth weight, to receive periodic intravenous infusions of either immune globulin (500 mg per kilogram of body weight per day) or a placebo. Mortality, morbidity, and nosocomial infection during the next 56 days were assessed.
Results: The infusions were well tolerated; mild, reversible adverse reactions occurred in five infants in each group. There was a significant reduction in the risk of a first nosocomial infection in the recipients of immune globulin as compared with the placebo recipients (relative risk, 0.7; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.5 to 0.9). About 85 percent of the nosocomial infections were bacterial; the majority of these were caused by coagulase-negative staphylococci or Staphylococcus aureus. The neonates who received immune globulin had fewer mean days of hospitalization than the controls (62 vs. 68, P = 0.15); among the infants with infections, the difference in the mean length of the hospital stay was even greater (80 days vs. 101 days, P = 0.02).
Conclusions: For premature infants weighing between 500 and 1750 g at birth, treatment with intravenous infusions of immune globulin is safe and reduces the risk of nosocomial infection.