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BACKGROUND: Antimicrobial resistance is a global health threat. Antibiotics are commonly prescribed for children with uncomplicated lower respiratory tract infections, but there is little randomised evidence to support the effectiveness of antibiotics in treating these infections, either overall or relating to key clinical subgroups in which antibiotic prescribing is common (chest signs; fever; physician rating of unwell; sputum/rattly chest; shortness of breath). OBJECTIVES: To estimate the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of amoxicillin for uncomplicated lower respiratory tract infections in children both overall and in clinical subgroups. DESIGN: Placebo-controlled trial with qualitative, observational and cost-effectiveness studies. SETTING: UK general practices. PARTICIPANTS: Children aged 1-12 years with acute uncomplicated lower respiratory tract infections. OUTCOMES: The primary outcome was the duration in days of symptoms rated moderately bad or worse (measured using a validated diary). Secondary outcomes were symptom severity on days 2-4 (0 = no problem to 6 = as bad as it could be); symptom duration until very little/no problem; reconsultations for new or worsening symptoms; complications; side effects; and resource use. METHODS: Children were randomised to receive 50 mg/kg/day of oral amoxicillin in divided doses for 7 days, or placebo using pre-prepared packs, using computer-generated random numbers by an independent statistician. Children who were not randomised could participate in a parallel observational study. Semistructured telephone interviews explored the views of 16 parents and 14 clinicians, and the data were analysed using thematic analysis. Throat swabs were analysed using multiplex polymerase chain reaction. RESULTS: A total of 432 children were randomised (antibiotics, n = 221; placebo, n = 211). The primary analysis imputed missing data for 115 children. The duration of moderately bad symptoms was similar in the antibiotic and placebo groups overall (median of 5 and 6 days, respectively; hazard ratio 1.13, 95% confidence interval 0.90 to 1.42), with similar results for subgroups, and when including antibiotic prescription data from the 326 children in the observational study. Reconsultations for new or worsening symptoms (29.7% and 38.2%, respectively; risk ratio 0.80, 95% confidence interval 0.58 to 1.05), illness progression requiring hospital assessment or admission (2.4% vs. 2.0%) and side effects (38% vs. 34%) were similar in the two groups. Complete-case (n = 317) and per-protocol (n = 185) analyses were similar, and the presence of bacteria did not mediate antibiotic effectiveness. NHS costs per child were slightly higher (antibiotics, £29; placebo, £26), with no difference in non-NHS costs (antibiotics, £33; placebo, £33). A model predicting complications (with seven variables: baseline severity, difference in respiratory rate from normal for age, duration of prior illness, oxygen saturation, sputum/rattly chest, passing urine less often, and diarrhoea) had good discrimination (bootstrapped area under the receiver operator curve 0.83) and calibration. Parents found it difficult to interpret symptoms and signs, used the sounds of the child's cough to judge the severity of illness, and commonly consulted to receive a clinical examination and reassurance. Parents acknowledged that antibiotics should be used only when 'necessary', and clinicians noted a reduction in parents' expectations for antibiotics. LIMITATIONS: The study was underpowered to detect small benefits in key subgroups. CONCLUSION: Amoxicillin for uncomplicated lower respiratory tract infections in children is unlikely to be clinically effective or to reduce health or societal costs. Parents need better access to information, as well as clear communication about the self-management of their child's illness and safety-netting. FUTURE WORK: The data can be incorporated in the Cochrane review and individual patient data meta-analysis. TRIAL REGISTRATION: This trial is registered as ISRCTN79914298. FUNDING: This project was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Health Technology Assessment programme and will be published in full in Health Technology Assessment; Vol. 27, No. 9. See the NIHR Journals Library website for further project information.

Original publication




Journal article


Health Technol Assess

Publication Date





1 - 90


ANTIBACTERIAL AGENTS, ANTIMICROBIAL DRUG RESISTANCE, COUGH, PRIMARY CARE, PUBLIC HEALTH, RESPIRATORY TRACT INFECTIONS, Child, Humans, Amoxicillin, Anti-Bacterial Agents, Bandages, Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions, Observational Studies as Topic, Primary Health Care, Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic