Objective. To determine whether oral antibiotics prevent meningitis and serious bacterial infections in children with Streptococcus pneumoniae occult bacteremia.

Data Sources. Using the Medline database, the English-language literature was searched for all publications concerning bacteremia, fever, or S pneumoniae from 1966 to April 1996.

Study Selection. All studies that included a series of children with S pneumoniae occult bacteremia containing orally treated and untreated groups. Children were excluded from individual studies if they were immunocompromised, had a serious bacterial infection, underwent a lumbar puncture, or received parenteral antibiotics.

Data Extraction. Three authors independently reviewed each article to determine the number of eligible children and the outcome of children meeting entry criteria.

Data Synthesis. Eleven of 21 studies were excluded, leaving 10 evaluable studies with 656 total cases of S pneumoniae occult bacteremia identified. Patients who received oral antibiotics had fewer serious bacterial infections than untreated patients (3.3% vs 9.7%; pooled odds ratio, 0.35; 95% confidence interval, 0.17 to 0.73). Meningitis developed in 3 (0.8%) of 399 children in the oral antibiotic group and 7 (2.7%) of 257 untreated children (pooled odds ratio, 0.51; 95% confidence interval, 0.12 to 2.09).

Conclusion. Although oral antibiotics modestly decreased the risk of serious bacterial infections in children with S pneumoniae occult bacteremia, there was insufficient evidence to conclude that oral antibiotics prevent meningitis. Published recommendations that oral antibiotics be administered to prevent serious bacterial infections in children with possible S pneumoniae occult bacteremia should be reevaluated in light of the lower risk of sequelae from S pneumoniae occult bacteremia and newer data concerning side effects from treatment.

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