Azithromycin, a broad-spectrum antibiotic commonly used to prevent symptoms of COVID-19 in non-hospitalized patients, does not prevent COVID-19 symptoms from arising and may even increase a person's chance of hospitalization. The corresponding study was published in JAMA by researchers in California.
Azithromycin is widely prescribed in the US and the rest of the world as a treatment for COVID-19. It was initially recommended on the basis that its anti-inflammatory properties may help prevent the progression of COVID-19 if used early on in the disease.
"Most of the trials done so far with azithromycin have focused on hospitalized patients with pretty severe disease," said Catherine Oldenburg, lead author of the study. "Our paper is one of the first placebo-controlled studies showing no role for azithromycin in outpatients."
For the study, researchers recruited 263 people who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 within seven days of enrolment. None of the patients were hospitalized at the beginning of the study.
They were split into two treatment groups: the first group of 171 participants received a single, 1.2 gram oral dose of azithromycin, while the second group of 92 participants received an identical placebo.
By day 14, the researchers found that there was no significant difference in the proportion of participants in either group who were symptom-free. In both groups, 50% of participants had no symptoms. By day 21, while patients given the antibiotic had been hospitalized, the same was true for none of the participants in the placebo group.
The researchers conclude that their findings do not support the routine use of azithromycin for outpatients SARS-CoV-2 infection as the drug seemingly performs no better than a placebo in preventing COVID-19 symptoms from arising, as well as hospitalization from the disease.