Background: The MORDOR study, a cluster randomized clinical trial, showed that single-dose azithromycin (20 mg/kg) administered biannually for 2 years to preschool children reduced mortality; a study was conducted to determine its effect on clinical symptomatic episodes of malaria as a potential mechanism for mortality benefit.
Methods: A randomized control trial (RCT) was conducted, whereby 30 randomly selected communities in Kilosa District, Tanzania were randomized to receive 6-monthly treatment of children ages 1-59 months with single-dose azithromycin (20 mg/kg) vs. placebo. A prospective cohort study was nested within the RCT: children, aged 1 to 35 months at baseline, were randomly selected in each community and evaluated at 6-monthly intervals for 2 years. At each visit, the children were assessed for recent or ongoing fever and anti-malarial treatment; a rapid diagnostic test (RDT) for malaria was performed. The two major outcomes of interest were prevalence of RDT positivity and clinical malaria. The latter was defined as RDT-positivity with fever at time of evaluation and/or reported fever in the 3 days prior to evaluation. Methods that account for correlations at community level and within individuals over time were used to evaluate associations.
Results: At baseline, the prevalence rates in the children in the azithromycin and placebo arms were 17.6% vs. 15.5% for RDT positivity (p = 0.76) and 6.1% vs. 4.3% (p = 0.56) for clinical malaria. There was a decline in both RDT-positivity and clinical malaria over time in both arms. The difference by treatment assignment was not significant for clinical malaria; it was significant for RDT-positivity with greater odds of decline in the placebo arm (p = 0.01).
Conclusions: Lack of evidence for a significant difference in the prevalence of clinical malaria in children at any visit following treatment suggests that the effect of single-dose azithromycin on malaria is at best transient and limited in scope. Chance overrepresentation of non-seasonal transmission in the communities in the azithromycin arm may account for higher rates of RDT-positivity and less decline over time. Trial registration Clinicaltrials.gov NCT02047981.
Keywords: Azithromycin; Child mortality; Clinical trial; Malaria; Tanzania.