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The findings of a new study indicate that the antibiotic Zithromax failed to decrease the incidence of death or hospitalization from malaria when used with other antimalarial agents.
Researchers from the U.K., Mali, and Burkina Faso published a study last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, which looked at whether the antibiotic could be used for seasonal malaria chemoprevention and prevent deaths among African children.
Azithromycin is an antibiotic that is popularly sold under generic brand names Zithromax or Zmax, which is often used to treat certain bacterial infections, including ear infections, strep throat, pneumonia, traveler’s diarrhea, and certain other intestinal infections. It is one of the most widely used antibiotics, and is commonly prescribed to millions of Americans.
Researchers gave nearly 20,000 children their usual seasonal malaria chemoprevention medications, plus either Zithromax or a placebo. However, they found no statistical diference in the overall number of deaths and hospital admissions. There were fewer gastrointestinal infections, upper respiratory tract infections and nonmalarial febrile illnesses among children given the antibiotic.
“Among children in Burkina Faso and Mali, the addition of azithromycin to the antimalarial agents used for seasonal malaria chemoprevention did not result in a lower incidence of death or hospital admission that was not due to trauma or surgery than antimalarial agents plus placebo, although a lower disease burden was noted with azithromycin than with placebo,” the researchers determined.
The lack of tangible benefits may make the drug not worth the risk when its other concerns are calculated.
In a 2015 study published by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Chinese researchers warn that the use of Zithromax or Zmax more than doubles the risks of sudden cardiac death or heart rhythm problems.
That study found the rates of sudden cardiac death and ventricular tachyarrhythmia’s (VTA) was about 2.5 times higher for those taking Zithromax and similar antibiotics, such as Biaxin, quinolone, and erythromycin, than those taking no antibiotics at all.
The FDA has previously issued Zithromax drug safety communications, warning that the antibiotic can cause serious and potentially fatal abnormal heart activity. The FDA indicated that Zithromax can disrupt the electrical activity of the heart. The agency’s conclusions came after an investigation into the risk of Zithromax heart issues that was started in May 2012, examining data from a number of studies.