Bronchiolitis is a common acute respiratory infectious condition, with a high prevalence worldwide. It is a clinically diagnosed syndrome, manifested by tachypnoea (rapid breathing), with crackles or wheeze in young children. In the acute phase of bronchiolitis (< 14 days), antibiotics have only been recommended when a secondary bacterial infection is suspected. Although bronchiolitis is usually a self-limiting condition, a number of children have persistent respiratory symptoms such as cough and wheezing in post-acute bronchiolitis, and they present or re-present to secondary care.
To determine the effectiveness of antibiotics compared to a control (no treatment or placebo) for persistent respiratory symptoms (within six months), following acute bronchiolitis.
The following databases were searched, The Cochrane Airways Group Register of Trials, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE (Ovid), EMBASE (Ovid) and ClinicalTrials.gov. We searched all databases from their inception to the present, and did not impose restriction on language of publication. The search was performed in October 2012.
All randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing antibiotics with controls (placebo or no treatment) given in the post-acute phase of bronchiolitis (> 14 days) for children younger than two years of age diagnosed with bronchiolitis were included.
Data collection and analysis
Two review authors independently assessed studies against pre-defined criteria; and selected, extracted and assessed the data for inclusion. Several subgroup analyses were planned and this included when antibiotics commenced (early commencement classified as preventing; later commencement as treatment for post-bronchiolitis symptoms).
A single study met the inclusion criteria but had a high attrition rate. Thirty infants with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)-confirmed bronchiolitis were randomised to receive either a daily dose of oral clarithromycin 15 mg/kg or placebo for three weeks. Using an intention-to-treat (ITT) analysis, there was no significant difference between groups for the proportion of children who had persistent symptoms (odds ratio (OR) 0.20; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.02 to 2.02) or re-hospitalisation within six months (OR 0.11; 95% CI 0.01 to 1.29). There were no treatment studies of later commencement of antibiotics.
There is currently insufficient evidence to inform whether antibiotics should be used to treat or prevent persistent respiratory symptoms in the post-acute bronchiolitis phase. Future RCTs that evaluate the efficacy of antibiotics to reduce persistent respiratory symptoms are required, especially in areas where both acute and post-bronchiolitis morbidity is high such as in Indigenous communities in the US, New Zealand and Australia.