Most children up to the age of 5 who are prescribed antibiotics for non-severe community acquired pneumonia will be treated for between 7 and 14 days. But, a Cochrane Systematic Review of available research showed that treating for just three days was effective.
"This short duration treatment is cheaper to give, is more likely to be taken by the child and is less likely to trigger antimicrobial resistance than longer-duration regimens," says lead researcher Professor Zulfiqar Bhutta who heads the department of Paediatrics and Child Health at the Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan.
The findings are important for the world as a whole, but will probably be of greatest benefit in resource-poor societies, where a shorter dose would be much easier for people to afford, acquire and comply with.
The systematic review identified three studies that included 5,763 children younger than 5. In these trials, some of children were treated for 3 days and the rest were given the same antibiotics for 5 days. The researchers ensured that any other differences between the children were kept to a minimum.
"Pneumonia accounts for the highest number of deaths in children under five in low income countries, so it is important to find the most efficient way of treating it," says co-researcher Dr Batool Haider.
This review restricted itself to research that had compared 3 days of antibiotics against 5 days. The researchers are now keen to see more well-controlled randomised studies of different durations. This would make their conclusions stronger and would also allow more severe forms of pneumonia to be studied for optimal treatment strategies.