Objective: To conduct a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials of antibiotic treatment of acute otitis media in children to determine whether outcomes were comparable in children treated with antibiotics for less than 7 days or at least 7 days or more.
Data sources: MEDLINE (1966-1997), EMBASE (1974-1997), Current Contents, and Science Citation Index searches were conducted to identify randomized controlled trials of the treatment of acute otitis media in children with antibiotics of different durations.
Study selection: Studies were included if they met the following criteria: subjects aged 4 weeks to 18 years, clinical diagnosis of acute otitis media, no antimicrobial therapy at time of diagnosis, and randomization to less than 7 days of antibiotic treatment vs 7 days or more of antibiotic treatment.
Data extraction: Trial methodological quality was assessed independently by 7 reviewers; outcomes were extracted as the number of treatment failures, relapses, or reinfections.
Data synthesis: Included trials were grouped by antibiotic used in the short course: (1) 15 short-acting oral antibiotic trials (penicillin V potassium, amoxicillin [-clavulanate], cefaclor, cefixime, cefuroxime, cefpodoxime proxetil, cefprozil), (2) 4 intramuscularceftriaxone sodium trials, and (3) 11 oral azithromycin trials. The summary odds ratio for treatment outcomes at 8 to 19 days in children treated with short-acting antibiotics for 5 days vs 8 to 10 days was 1.52 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.17-1.98) but by 20 to 30 days outcomes between treatment groups were comparable (odds ratio, 1.22; 95% CI, 0.98 to 1.54). The risk difference (2.3%; 95% CI,-0.2% to 4.9%) at 20 to 30 days suggests that 44 children would need to be treated with the long course of short-acting antibiotics to avoid 1 treatment failure. This similarity in later outcomes was observed for up to 3 months following therapy (odds ratio, 1.16; 95% CI, 0.90-1.50). Comparable outcomes were shown between treatment with ceftriaxone or azithromycin, and at least 7 days of other antibiotics.
Conclusion: This meta-analysis suggests that 5 days of short-acting antibiotic use is effective treatment for uncomplicated acute otitis media in children.