JOURNAL ARTICLE
META-ANALYSIS
REVIEW
SYSTEMATIC REVIEW
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Probiotics for prevention of necrotizing enterocolitis in preterm infants.

BACKGROUND: Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) and nosocomial sepsis are associated with increased morbidity and mortality in preterm infants. Through prevention of bacterial migration across the mucosa, competitive exclusion of pathogenic bacteria, and enhancing the immune responses of the host, prophylactic enteral probiotics (live microbial supplements) may play a role in reducing NEC and associated morbidity.

OBJECTIVES: To compare the efficacy and safety of prophylactic enteral probiotics administration versus placebo or no treatment in the prevention of severe NEC and/or sepsis in preterm infants.

SEARCH STRATEGY: For this update, searches were made of MEDLINE (1966 to October 2010), EMBASE (1980 to October 2010), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL, The Cochrane Library, Issue 2, 2010), and abstracts of annual meetings of the Society for Pediatric Research (1995 to 2010).

SELECTION CRITERIA: Only randomized or quasi-randomized controlled trials that enrolled preterm infants < 37 weeks gestational age and/or < 2500 g birth weight were considered. Trials were included if they involved enteral administration of any live microbial supplement (probiotics) and measured at least one prespecified clinical outcome.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Standard methods of the Cochrane Collaboration and its Neonatal Group were used to assess the methodologic quality of the trials, data collection and analysis.

MAIN RESULTS: Sixteen eligible trials randomizing 2842 infants were included. Included trials were highly variable with regard to enrollment criteria (i.e. birth weight and gestational age), baseline risk of NEC in the control groups, timing, dose, formulation of the probiotics, and feeding regimens. Data regarding extremely low birth weight infants (ELBW) could not be extrapolated. In a meta-analysis of trial data, enteral probiotics supplementation significantly reduced the incidence of severe NEC (stage II or more) (typical RR 0.35, 95% CI 0.24 to 0.52) and mortality (typical RR 0.40, 95% CI 0.27 to 0.60). There was no evidence of significant reduction of nosocomial sepsis (typical RR 0.90, 95% CI 0.76 to 1.07). The included trials reported no systemic infection with the probiotics supplemental organism. The statistical test of heterogeneity for NEC, mortality and sepsis was insignificant.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: Enteral supplementation of probiotics prevents severe NEC and all cause mortality in preterm infants. Our updated review of available evidence supports a change in practice. More studies are needed to assess efficacy in ELBW infants and assess the most effective formulation and dose to be utilized.

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