BACKGROUND: Experimental and clinical evidence suggests that respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) bronchiolitis is an immune mediated disease. Corticosteroids might therefore be effective in the treatment of RSV bronchiolitis. METHODS: A randomised double blind trial was conducted in children up to two years of age admitted to hospital with RSV bronchiolitis to compare prednisolone (1 mg/ kg/day orally for seven days) with placebo. Variables used for the efficacy analysis were a daily symptom score and the length of time in hospital in the non-ventilated patients, and the duration of mechanical ventilation and the length of time in hospital in the ventilated patients. RESULTS: Fifty four patients were included in the trial, 40 of whom were non-ventilated (20 in each group) and 14 were ventilated (seven in each group). During the first three days of treatment the symptom score decreased significantly faster in the prednisolone group than in the placebo group (mean (SE) decrease -1.2 (0.2) points/day versus -0.6 (0.2) points/day; mean (95% confidence interval (CI)) for difference = -0.6 (-0.1 to -1.2); p = 0.02). The mean duration of hospital stay of all 40 non-ventilated patients was not significantly different between the two groups. In the ventilated patients the duration of mechanical ventilation was not significantly different, but the length of time in hospital was six days shorter in the prednisolone group than in the placebo group (mean (SE) 11.0 (0.7) versus 17.0 (2.0) days; mean (95% CI) difference = 7.0 (1.8 to 10.2) days; p < 0.01). CONCLUSIONS: These results suggest that prednisolone may be effective in accelerating the clinical recovery of children admitted to hospital with RSV bronchiolitis.
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