Background: Up to 7% of term and late-preterm neonates in high-income countries receive antibiotics during the first 3 days of life because of suspected early-onset sepsis. The prevalence of culture-proven early-onset sepsis is 0·1% or less in high-income countries, suggesting substantial overtreatment. We assess whether procalcitonin-guided decision making for suspected early-onset sepsis can safely reduce the duration of antibiotic treatment.
Methods: We did this randomised controlled intervention trial in Dutch (n=11), Swiss (n=4), Canadian (n=2), and Czech (n=1) hospitals. Neonates of gestational age 34 weeks or older, with suspected early-onset sepsis requiring antibiotic treatment were stratified into four risk categories by their treating physicians and randomly assigned [1:1] using a computer-generated list stratified per centre to procalcitonin-guided decision making or standard care-based antibiotic treatment. Neonates who underwent surgery within the first week of life or had major congenital malformations that would have required hospital admission were excluded. Only principal investigators were masked for group assignment. Co-primary outcomes were non-inferiority for re-infection or death in the first month of life (margin 2·0%) and superiority for duration of antibiotic therapy. Intention-to-treat and per-protocol analyses were done. This trial was registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT00854932.
Findings: Between May 21, 2009, and Feb 14, 2015, we screened 2440 neonates with suspected early-onset sepsis. 622 infants were excluded due to lack of parental consent, 93 were ineligible for reasons unknown (68), congenital malformation (22), or surgery in the first week of life (3). 14 neonates were excluded as 100% data monitoring or retrieval was not feasible, and one neonate was excluded because their procalcitonin measurements could not be taken. 1710 neonates were enrolled and randomly assigned to either procalcitonin-guided therapy (n=866) or standard therapy (n=844). 1408 neonates underwent per-protocol analysis (745 in the procalcitonin group and 663 standard group). For the procalcitonin group, the duration of antibiotic therapy was reduced (intention to treat: 55·1 vs 65·0 h, p<0·0001; per protocol: 51·8 vs 64·0 h; p<0·0001). No sepsis-related deaths occurred, and 9 (<1%) of 1710 neonates had possible re-infection. The risk difference for non-inferiority was 0·1% (95% CI -4·6 to 4·8) in the intention-to-treat analysis (5 [0·6%] of 866 neonates in the procalcitonin group vs 4 [0·5%] of 844 neonates in the standard group) and 0·1% (-5·2 to 5·3) in the per-protocol analysis (5 [0·7%] of 745 neonates in the procalcitonin group vs 4 [0·6%] of 663 neonates in the standard group).
Interpretation: Procalcitonin-guided decision making was superior to standard care in reducing antibiotic therapy in neonates with suspected early-onset sepsis. Non-inferiority for re-infection or death could not be shown due to the low occurrence of re-infections and absence of study-related death.
Funding: The Thrasher Foundation, the NutsOhra Foundation, the Sophia Foundation for Scientific research.
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