Antifungal Treatment and Outcome in Very Low Birth Weight Infants: A Population-based Observational Study of the German Neonatal Network

The German Neonatal Network (GNN), Ingmar Fortmann, Annika Hartz, Pia Paul, Ferdinand Pulzer, Andreas Müller, Ralf Böttger, Hans Proquitté, Kristin Dawczynski, Arne Simon, Jan Rupp, Egbert Herting, Wolfgang Göpel, Christoph Härtel


BACKGROUND: The diagnostic proof of fungal infection in preterm infants is difficult. Antifungal treatment (AFT) is often initiated empirically when infants with suspected infection do not improve despite broad-spectrum antibiotic therapy. It was the aim of our study to determine the rate of exposure to empirical AFT in a large cohort of very low birth weight infants (VLBWI) of the German Neonatal Network and to address associated risks and outcomes.

METHODS: The epidemiologic database consisted of n = 13,343 VLBWI born in 54 German Neonatal Network centers between 2009 and 2015. AFT was defined as number of neonates who got any dose of at least one of the following antifungal drugs: fluconazole, amphotericin B, voriconazole and caspofungin (denominator: number of infants enrolled in German Neonatal Network) for treatment (not prophylaxis) of (suspected) fungal infection. Univariate and logistic regression analyses were used to identify risk factors for exposure to AFT and associated short-term morbidities and long-term outcomes at 5-year follow-up.

RESULTS: In our cohort, 724 out of 13,343 (5.4%) VLBWI were exposed to empiric AFT and had a mean gestational age of 25.7 (±2.1) weeks. Forty-four out of 13,343 (0.3%) had proven bloodstream infection with Candida spp. The main risk factors for exposure to AFT were gestational age, postnatal steroid treatment, need for abdominal surgery and use of carbapenems. Notably, AFT was associated with adverse outcomes such as bronchopulmonary dysplasia [adjusted odds ratio (OR): 1.9; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.6-2.3; P < 0.001) and retinopathy of prematurity requiring intervention (adjusted OR: 1.69; 95% CI: 1.3-2.3; P <0.001) but not mortality. In the subgroup of infants available for 5-year follow-up (n = 895), exposure to AFT was associated with a risk for cerebral palsy (adjusted OR: 2.79; 95% CI: 1.11-7.04; P = 0.04) and intelligence quotient < 85 (adjusted OR: 2.07; 95% CI: 1.01-4.28; P = 0.049).

CONCLUSIONS: A significant proportion of VLBWI is exposed to AFT, specifically those born <26 weeks. Exposed infants were found to have a higher risk for adverse outcomes, which may reflect their significant vulnerability in general. Given the observational design of our study, it remains unclear whether potential side effects of empirical or target AFT itself contribute to adverse outcome. Future studies need to include risk-based strategies and stewardship programs to restrict the use of antifungal management in VLBWI.

Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Pediatric infectious disease journal
Issue number11
Pages (from-to)1165-1171
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 01.11.2018

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Infection and Inflammation Research (ZIEL)


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