Background: Acute diarrhoea is a common cause of illness and death among children in low- to middle-income settings. World Health Organization guidelines for the clinical management of acute watery diarrhoea in children focus on oral rehydration, supplemental zinc and feeding advice. Routine use of antibiotics is not recommended except when diarrhoea is bloody or cholera is suspected. Young children who are undernourished or have a dehydrating diarrhoea are more susceptible to death at 90 days after onset of diarrhoea. Given the mortality risk associated with diarrhoea in children with malnutrition or dehydrating diarrhoea, expanding the use of antibiotics for this subset of children could be an important intervention to reduce diarrhoea-associated mortality and morbidity. We designed the Antibiotics for Childhood Diarrhoea (ABCD) trial to test this intervention.
Methods: ABCD is a double-blind, randomised trial recruiting 11,500 children aged 2-23 months presenting with acute non-bloody diarrhoea who are dehydrated and/or undernourished (i.e. have a high risk for mortality). Enrolled children in Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Pakistan and Tanzania are randomised (1:1) to oral azithromycin 10 mg/kg or placebo once daily for 3 days and followed-up for 180 days. Primary efficacy endpoints are all-cause mortality during the 180 days post-enrolment and change in linear growth 90 days post-enrolment.
Discussion: Expanding the treatment of acute watery diarrhoea in high-risk children to include an antibiotic may offer an opportunity to reduce deaths. These benefits may result from direct antimicrobial effects on pathogens or other incompletely understood mechanisms including improved nutrition, alterations in immune responsiveness or improved enteric function. The expansion of indications for antibiotic use raises concerns about the emergence of antimicrobial resistance both within treated children and the communities in which they live. ABCD will monitor antimicrobial resistance. The ABCD trial has important policy implications. If the trial shows significant benefits of azithromycin use, this may provide evidence to support reconsideration of antibiotic indications in the present World Health Organization diarrhoea management guidelines. Conversely, if there is no evidence of benefit, these results will support the current avoidance of antibiotics except in dysentery or cholera, thereby avoiding inappropriate use of antibiotics and reaffirming the current guidelines.
Trial registration: Clinicaltrials.gov, NCT03130114. Registered on April 26 2017.
Keywords: Antibiotics; Azithromycin; Growth; Mortality; Paediatric diarrhoea; Randomised.