Prophylactic antibiotics for preventing pneumococcal infection in children with sickle cell disease



Persons with sickle cell disease (SCD) are particularly susceptible to infection. Infants and very young children are especially vulnerable. The ‘Co-operative Study of Sickle Cell Disease’ observed an incidence rate for pneumococcal septicaemia of 10 per 100 person years in children under the age of three years. Vaccines, including customary pneumococcal vaccines, may be of limited use in this age group. Therefore, prophylactic penicillin regimens may be advisable for this population. This is an update of a Cochrane Review first published in 2002, and previously updated, most recently in 2014.


To assess the effects of antibiotic prophylaxis against pneumococcus in children with SCD in relation to:

1. incidence of infection;

2. mortality;

3. drug-related adverse events (as reported in the included studies) to the individual and the community;

4. the impact of discontinuing at various ages on incidence of infection and mortality.

Search methods

We searched the Cochrane Cystic Fibrosis and Genetic Disorders Group Haemoglobinopathies Trials Register, which is comprised of references identified from comprehensive electronic database searches and also two clinical trials registries: and the WHO International Registry Platform. Additionally, we carried out handsearching of relevant journals and abstract books of conference proceedings.

Date of the most recent search: 19 December 2016.

Selection criteria

All randomised or quasi-randomised controlled trials comparing prophylactic antibiotics to prevent pneumococcal infection in children with SCD with placebo, no treatment or a comparator drug.

Data collection and analysis

Both authors independently extracted data and assessed trial quality. The authors used the GRADE criteria to assess the quality of the evidence.

Main results

Five trials were identified by the searches, of which three trials (880 children randomised) met the inclusion criteria. All of the included trials showed a reduced incidence of infection in children with SCD (SS or Sβ0Thal) receiving prophylactic penicillin. In trials which investigated initiation of penicillin on risk of pneumococcal infection, the odds ratio was 0.37 (95% confidence interval 0.16 to 0.86) (two trials, 457 children) (low-quality evidence), while for withdrawal the odds ratio was 0.49 (95% confidence interval 0.09 to 2.71) (one trial, 400 children) (low-quality evidence). Adverse drug effects were rare and minor. Rates of pneumococcal infection were found to be relatively low in children over the age of five.

Overall, the quality of the evidence for all outcomes was judged to be low. The results from the risk of bias assessment undertaken identified two domains in which the risk of bias was considered to be high, these were incomplete outcome data (attrition bias) (two trials) and allocation concealment (selection bias) (one trial). Domains considered to have a low risk of bias for all three trials were selective reporting (reporting bias) and blinding (performance and detection bias).

Authors’ conclusions

The evidence examined suggests that prophylactic penicillin significantly reduces risk of pneumococcal infection in children with homozygous SCD, and is associated with minimal adverse reactions. Further research may help to determine the ideal age to safely withdraw penicillin.

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