Background: Azithromycin reduces the severity of illness in patients with inflammatory lung disease such as cystic fibrosis and diffuse panbronchiolitis. Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) is a pulmonary disorder which causes significant morbidity and mortality in premature infants. BPD is pathologically characterized by inflammation, fibrosis and impaired alveolar development. The purpose of this study was to obtain pilot data on the effectiveness and safety of prophylactic azithromycin in reducing the incidence and severity of BPD in an extremely low birth weight (< or = 1000 grams) population.
Methods: Infants < or = 1000 g birth weight admitted to the University of Kentucky Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (level III, regional referral center) from 9/1/02-6/30/03 were eligible for this pilot study. The pilot study was double-blinded, randomized, and placebo-controlled. Infants were randomized to treatment or placebo within 12 hours of beginning mechanical ventilation (IMV) and within 72 hours of birth. The treatment group received azithromycin 10 mg/kg/day for 7 days followed by 5 mg/kg/day for the duration of the study. Azithromycin or placebo was continued until the infant no longer required IMV or supplemental oxygen, to a maximum of 6 weeks. Primary endpoints were incidence of BPD as defined by oxygen requirement at 36 weeks gestation, post-natal steroid use, days of IMV, and mortality. Data was analyzed by intention to treat using Chi-square and ANOVA.
Results: A total of 43 extremely premature infants were enrolled in this pilot study. Mean gestational age and birth weight were similar between groups. Mortality, incidence of BPD, days of IMV, and other morbidities were not significantly different between groups. Post-natal steroid use was significantly less in the treatment group [31% (6/19)] vs. placebo group [62% (10/16)] (p = 0.05). Duration of mechanical ventilation was significantly less in treatment survivors, with a median of 13 days (1-47 days) vs. 35 days (1-112 days)(p = 0.02).
Conclusion: Our study suggests that azithromycin prophylaxis in extremely low birth weight infants may effectively reduce post-natal steroid use for infants. Further studies are needed to assess the effects of azithromycin on the incidence of BPD and possible less common side effects, before any recommendations regarding routine clinical use can be made.