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Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004 Oct 18;(4):CD001954.

Azithromycin for acute lower respiratory tract infections.

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  • 1Community Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Chiang Mai University, 110 Intawaroros Road, Chiang Mai, Thailand, 50200.

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The spectrum of acute lower respiratory tract infection ranges from acute bronchitis and acute exacerbations of chronic bronchitis to pneumonia. Annually approximately five million people die of acute respiratory tract infections. Among these, pneumonia represents the most frequent cause of mortality, hospitalization and medical consultation. Azithromycin is a new macrolide antibiotic, structurally modified from erythromycin and is noted for its activity against some gram-negative organisms associated with respiratory tract infections, particularly Haemophilus influenzae (H. influenzae).


To compare the effectiveness of azithromycin to amoxycillin or amoxycillin/clavulanic acid (amoxyclav) in the treatment of LRTI, in terms of clinical failure, incidence of adverse events and microbial eradication.


We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library Issue 4, 2003), MEDLINE (January 1966 to January Week 3, 2004), and EMBASE (January 1988 to 2003).


Randomised and quasi-randomised controlled trials, which compared azithromycin to amoxycillin or amoxycillin/clavulanic acid in patients with clinical evidence of acute LRTI: acute bronchitis, pneumonia, and acute exacerbation of chronic bronchitis were studied.


The criteria for assessing study quality were generation of allocation sequence, concealment of treatment allocation, blinding, and completeness of the trial. All types of acute lower respiratory tract infections were initially pooled in the meta-analyses. Funnel plot was used to examine publication bias. The heterogeneity of results was investigated by the forest plot and Chi-square test. Index of I(2) was also used to measure inconsistency results among trials. Subgroup analysis was conducted for age, types of respiratory tract infection and types of antibiotic in control groups. Sensitivity analysis was conducted under the condition of trial size and concealment of treatment allocation.


Fourteen trials with 2,521 enrolled patients used 2,416 patients in the analysis. A total of 1,350 patients received azithromycin and 1,066 received amoxicillin or amoxicillin-clavulanic acid. The pooled analysis of all trials showed that there was no significant difference in the incidence of clinical failure on about day 10 to 14 after therapy started between the two groups (relative risk (RR) (random effects) 0.96; 95% CI 0.58 to 1.57). Sensitivity analysis showed that a reduction of clinical failure in azithromycin-treated patients (RR 0.52; 95% CI 0.24 to 1.12) in three adequately concealed studies, compared to RR 1.14 (95% CI 0.62 to 2.08) in eleven studies with inadequate concealment. Eleven trials reported the incidence of microbial eradication and there was no significant difference between the two groups (RR 0.98; 95% CI 0.91 to 1.07). The reduction of adverse events in azithromycin group was RR 0.75 (95% CI 0.56 to 1.00).


There is unclear evidence that azithromycin is superior to amoxicillin or amoxicillin-clavulanic acid in treating acute LRTI. Future trials with high methodological quality are needed.

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