Preventing preterm labour with the antibiotic azithromycin is plain futile effort, a new British study has found.
Scientists at Liverpool looked into the effectiveness of the antibiotic in keeping a check on premature births in Southern Malawi to come up with their findings.
Out of 2,000 pregnant women, half were administered antibiotic orally and half were given placebo drugs. It was seen that the antibiotic made no major difference to the outcome of the pregnancies between both the groups of women. Although, infection rates came down due to the antibiotic use, a large number of women still went into preterm labour.
Professor Jim Neilson, from the University of Liverpool's School of Reproductive and Developmental Medicine, said: "Labour that occurs before 37 weeks is defined as a preterm birth and is a major cause of infant death and illness. Currently there is no effective way to prevent premature births, but it is thought that infection could be a significant trigger. Although preterm labour is a problem all over the world, women in developing countries are at higher risk, perhaps because of the increased levels of infection, such as HIV and malaria."
He added: "Infection can occur early in pregnancy and remain undetected, so one way of reducing incidences of preterm labour may be to administer antibiotics before patients display any signs of infection. Our study showed, however, that treating infection with azithromycin, had no impact on reducing incidences of preterm labour.
"The results suggest that infection may not be the primary cause of preterm labour and other factors must be investigated further. We recommend that routine antibiotics should not be given to pregnant women to prevent early births."
Dr Nynke van den Broek, from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, said: "The data collected as part of the trial will be further analysed to determine which factors during pregnancy were associated with the occurrence of preterm birth in this group of women. The field site in Malawi is highly representative of other sub Saharan African settings and the information on risk factors as well as pregnancy outcome will be very valuable to inform future studies.
"The results suggest that infection may not be the primary cause of preterm labour as previously thought. We recommend that routine antibiotics should not be given to pregnant women to prevent early births."