Erythromycin for the prevention of chronic lung disease in intubated preterm infants at risk for, or colonized or infected with Ureaplasma urealyticum

More evidence needed on using antibiotics to try and prevent chronic lung disease in preterm babies testing positive for U urealyticum. Chronic lung disease (CLD) is a major health risk often faced by preterm babies on ventilation (machine-assisted breathing). Ureaplasma urealyticum is a common type of infection that may be one of the causes of CLD, although this has not been proven. Erythromycin is an antibiotic used for other infections caused by U urealyticum. When a baby tests positive for U urealyticum, erythromycin has been tried as a preventive measure. The review found that there is not enough evidence from trials to show whether or not testing preterm babies for U urealyticum and using erythromycin can prevent CLD or mortality.

Authors' conclusions: 

Current evidence does not demonstrate a reduction in CLD/death when intubated preterm infants are treated with erythromycin prophylactically before U. urealyticum culture/PCR results are known or when Ureaplasma colonized, intubated preterm infants are treated with erythromycin. However, a true benefit could easily have been missed with the small sample sizes in the two eligible studies. The studies were greatly underpowered to detect uncommon adverse effects such as pyloric stenosis. Additional controlled trials are required to determine whether antibiotic therapy of Ureaplasma reduces CLD and/or death in intubated preterm infants.

Read the full abstract...

Controversy exists over whether or not Ureaplasma urealyticum colonization or infection of the respiratory tract contributes to the severity of chronic lung disease (CLD), a major cause of morbidity and mortality in preterm infants.


To evaluate the efficacy and safety of prophylactic or therapeutic erythromycin in preventing chronic lung disease in intubated preterm infants with unknown U. urealyticum status or proven positivity.

Search strategy: 

Searches were done of MEDLINE (1966-June 9, 2003), EMBASE (1980-May 5, 2003), The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL, The Cochrane Library, Issue 4, 2002), previous reviews including cross-references, and abstracts of conference proceedings (Pediatric Academic Societies 2000-2003, American Thoracic Society 2001-2003). There were no language restrictions. Expert informants were contacted.

Selection criteria: 

Randomized or quasi-randomized studies comparing either prophylactic or therapeutic administration of oral or intravenous erythromycin (regardless of dose and duration) versus no treatment or placebo among intubated preterm infants <37 weeks and <2500 grams with either unknown U. urealyticum status or proven positivity by culture or polymerase chain reaction.

Data collection and analysis: 

Data were extracted by all of the authors independently and differences were resolved by consensus. Treatment effects for categorical outcomes were expressed as relative risk, with 95% confidence intervals.

Main results: 

Two small controlled studies, both involving intubated babies <30 weeks gestation, were eligible for inclusion. Lyon 1998 tested prophylactic erythromycin in babies whose U. urealyticum status was unknown at the time of initiation of treatment. Jonsson 1998 tested erythromycin in babies known to be culture positive for U. urealyticum. Neither trial showed a statistically significant effect of erythromycin on CLD, death or the combined outcome CLD or death. Because the two studies differed importantly in their design, the results were not combined in meta-analyses. No adverse effects of a 7-10 day course of erythromycin were reported in either study.