Results Sixty-six RCTs fulfilled the inclusion criteria, and these included 9711 patients. We found a higher mortality with chloramphenicol for respiratory tract infections [risk ratio (RR) 1.40, 95% CI 1.00–1.97] and meningitis (RR 1.27, 95% CI 1.00–1.60), both without heterogeneity. The point estimate was similar for enteric fever, without statistical significance. No statistically significant difference was found between chloramphenicol and other antibiotics regarding treatment failure, except for enteric fever (RR 1.46, 95% CI 1.07–2.00, without heterogeneity). This difference derived mainly from studies comparing chloramphenicol with fluoroquinolones (RR 1.85, 95% CI 1.07–3.2). There were no statistically significant differences between chloramphenicol and other antibiotics in terms of adverse events, including haematological events, except for anaemia, which occurred more frequently with chloramphenicol (RR 2.80, 95% CI 1.65–4.75, I2 = 0%), and gastrointestinal side effects, which were less frequent with chloramphenicol (RR 0.67, 95% CI 0.46–0.99, I2 = 0%). Many of the studies included were sponsored by pharmaceutical companies marketing the comparator drug to chloramphenicol, and this might have influenced the results.
Conclusions Chloramphenicol cannot be recommended as a first-line treatment for respiratory tract infections, meningitis or enteric fever as alternatives are probably more effective. Chloramphenicol is as safe as treatment alternatives for short antibiotic courses.
Historically, the safety concern with chloramphenicol has been its hematologic toxicity. This study mitigates that concern somewhat but also found that newer agents tend to be more effective for its old indications.
Via Hospital Medicine Virtual Journal Club.