High-flow oxygen therapy outside the ICU boosts the likelihood that infants with bronchiolitis will avoid treatment failure and an escalation of treatment, a study finds.

“High flow can be safely used in general emergency wards and general pediatric ward settings in regional and metropolitan hospitals that have no immediate direct access to dedicated pediatric intensive care facilities,” study coauthor Andreas Schibler, MD, of University of Queensland in Australia, said in an interview. The findings were published March 22 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Bronchiolitis is quite common in children, and a 2002 report found that respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) bronchiolitis was the most common reason for infants under the age of 1 year to be hospitalized in the United States during 1997-1999 ( Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2002 Jul;21[7]:629-32 ).

“The typical treatment for bronchiolitis is supportive therapy, providing nutrition, fluids, and if needed respiratory support including provision of oxygen,” Dr. Schibler said.

The prognosis is generally goods thanks to improvements in intensive care, he said, which some infants need because the standard oxygen therapy provided in general pediatric wards is insufficient. The new study examines whether high-flow oxygen therapy through a cannula – which he said has become more common – reduces the risk of treatment failure in non-ICU therapy, compared with standard oxygen treatment.

Dr. Schibler and his colleagues tracked 1,472 patients under 12 months with bronchiolitis and a need for oxygen treatment who were randomly assigned to high-flow or standard oxygen therapy to maintain their oxygen saturation at 92%-98% or 94%-98%, depending on policy at the hospital. The subjects were patients at 17 hospitals in Australia and New Zealand.

A total of 739 infants received high-flow treatment that provided heated and humidified oxygen at a rate of 2 liters per kilogram of body weight per minute. The other 733 infants received standard oxygen therapy up to a maximum 2 liters per minute.

The treatment failed, requiring an escalation of care, in 87 of 739 patients (12%) in the high-flow group and 167 of 733 (23%) in the standard-therapy group. (risk difference = –11% points; 95% confidence interval, –15 to –7; P less than .001).

“The ease to use and simplicity of high flow made us recognize and think that this level of respiratory care can be provided outside intensive care,” Dr. Schibler said. “This was further supported by the observational fact that most of these infants with bronchiolitis showed a dramatically improved respiratory condition once on high flow.”

Dr. Schibler said there haven’t been any signs of adverse effects from high-flow oxygen therapy. As for the cost of the treatment, he said it is “likely offset by a reduced need for intensive care therapy or costs associated with transferring to a children’s hospital.”

What should physicians and hospitals take from the study findings? “If a hospital explores the option to use high flow in bronchiolitis, then start the therapy early in the disease process or once an oxygen requirement is recognized,” Dr. Schibler said. “Implementation of a solid and structured training program with a clear hospital guideline based on the evidence will ensure the staff who care for these patients will be empowered and comfortable to adjust the oxygen levels given by the high-flow equipment. The greater the confidence and comfort level for the nursing and respiratory technician staff the better for these infants, as they will sooner observe those infants who are not responding well and may require a higher level of care such as intensive care or they will recognize the infant who responds well.”

The National Health and Medical Research Council (Australia) and the Queensland Emergency Medical Research Fund provided funding, and sites received grant funding from various sources. Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, a respiratory care company based in Auckland, New Zealand, donated high-flow equipment and consumables and travel/accommodation support. Study authors reported various grants and other support.

SOURCE: Franklin D et al. N Engl J Med. 2018;378(12):1112-31.


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