Objective: We hypothesized that using a higher dose of erythropoietin (Epo) and starting treatment on the first day of life would reduce the transfusion requirements of ventilator-dependent and non-ventilator-dependent very low birth weight (VLBW) infants. Moreover, we hypothesized that this treatment would be cost-effective.
Methods: We randomly assigned 20 ill newborn VLBW infants to receive either Epo (200 units/kg per day) or placebo during their first 2 weeks of life. The caregivers were unaware of the treatment assignments, and erythrocyte transfusions were administered according to hematocrit and signs of anemia.
Results: On day 1, reticulocyte counts and hematocrits were similar in the two groups. During the subsequent 2 weeks, reticulocyte counts of the placebo recipients fell significantly below those of the Epo recipients, but hematocrits in the two groups did not differ. More transfusions were received by the placebo recipients (mean = 1.4 per patient) than by the Epo recipients (mean = 0.2 per patient; p < 0.01). No adverse effects of Epo were noted, and the costs in the placebo group exceeded those in the Epo group.
Conclusions: We conclude that administration of Epo to VLBW infants during the first 2 weeks of life results in fewer transfusions and is cost-effective.