Selective digestive tract decontamination to prevent healthcare associated infections in critically ill children: the PICNIC multicentre randomised pilot clinical trial

Nazima Pathan*, Kerry Woolfall, Mariana Popa, Gema Milla de la Fuente, Paloma Ferrando-Vivas, Alanna Brown, Theodore Gouliouris, Lyvonne N. Tume, Robert Shulman, Brian H. Cuthbertson, Isobel Sale, Richard G. Feltbower, John Myburgh, John Pappachan, David Harrison, Paul Mouncey, Kathryn Rowan, Charlotte Fulham, Melanie James, Kirsten BeadonCat Postlethwaite, Jenny Pond, Antonia Hargadon-Lowe, Jane Cassidy, Ceri Robbins, Phil Milner, Buvana Dwarakanathan, Joana Gomes De Queiroz, Esther Daubney, Deborah White, Peter Davis, Laura Dodge, Francesca Moody, the PICNIC study investigators

*Corresponding author for this work

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Healthcare-associated infections (HCAIs) are a major cause of morbidity and mortality in critically ill children. Data from adult studies suggest Selective Decontamination of the Digestive tract (SDD) may reduce the incidence of HCAIs and improve survival. There are no data from randomised clinical trials in the paediatric setting. An open label, parallel group pilot cRCT and mixed-methods perspectives study was conducted in six paediatric intensive care units (PICUs) in England. Participants were children (> 37 weeks corrected gestational age, up to 16 years) requiring mechanical ventilation expected to last for at least 48 h. Sites undertook standard care for a period of 9 weeks and were randomised into 3 sites which continued standard care and 3 where SDD was incorporated into infection control practice for eligible children. Interviews and focus groups were conducted for parents and staff working in PICU. 434 children fulfilled eligibility criteria, of whom 368 (85%) were enrolled. This included 207 in the baseline phase (Period One) and 161 in the intervention period (Period Two). In sites delivering SDD, the majority (98%) of children received at least one dose of SDD and of these, 68% commenced within the first 6 h. Whilst admission swabs were collected in 91% of enrolled children, consent for the collection of additional swabs was low (44%). Recruited children were representative of the wider PICU population. Overall, 3.6 children/site/week were recruited compared with the potential recruitment rate for a definitive cRCT of 3 children/site/week, based on data from all UK PICUs. Parents (n = 65) and staff (n = 44) were supportive of the aims of the study, suggesting adaptations for a larger definitive trial including formulation and administration of SDD paste, approaches to consent and ecology monitoring. Stakeholders identified preferred clinical outcomes, focusing on complications of critical illness and quality-of-life. A definitive cRCT in SDD to prevent HCAIs in critically ill children is feasible but should include adaptations to ecology monitoring along with the dosing schedule and packaging into a paediatric specific format. A definitive study is supported by the findings with adaptations to ecology monitoring and SDD administration. Trial Registration: ISRCTN40310490 Registered 30/10/2020.

Original languageEnglish
Article number21668
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 7 Dec 2023


  • digestive tract
  • Decontamination
  • infection
  • critically ill children
  • clinical trial
  • Gastrointestinal Tract
  • Humans
  • Decontamination/methods
  • Critical Illness/therapy
  • Pilot Projects
  • Adult
  • Cross Infection/epidemiology
  • Child


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