Cotrimoxazole appears safe in pregnant women living with HIV, despite poor quality evidence

Safety of cotrimoxazole in pregnancy: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

Ford N, Shubber Z, Jao J, Abrams EJ, Frigati L, Mofenson L. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2014 Aug 15;66(5):512-21. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000000211.

Introduction: Cotrimoxazole is widely prescribed to treat a range of infections, and for HIV-infected individuals it is administered as prophylaxis to protect against opportunistic infections. Some reports suggest that fetuses exposed to cotrimoxazole during early pregnancy may have an increased risk of congenital anomalies. We carried out this systematic review to update the evidence of cotrimoxazole safety in pregnancy.

Methods: Three databases and 1 conference abstract site were searched in duplicate up to October 31, 2013, for studies reporting adverse maternal and infant outcomes among women receiving cotrimoxazole during pregnancy. This search was updated in MEDLINE via PubMed to April 28, 2014. Studies were included irrespective of HIV infection status or the presence of other coinfections. Our primary outcome was birth defects of any kind. Secondary outcomes included spontaneous abortions, terminations of pregnancy, stillbirths, preterm deliveries, and drug-associated toxicity.

Results: Twenty-four studies were included for review. There were 232 infants with congenital anomalies among 4 196 women receiving cotrimoxazole during pregnancy, giving an overall pooled prevalence of 3.5% (95% confidence interval: 1.8% to 5.1%; τ² = 0.03). Three studies reported 31 infants with neural tube defects associated with first trimester exposure to cotrimoxazole, giving a crude prevalence of 0.7% (95% confidence interval: 0.5% to 1.0%) with most data (29 neural tube defects) coming from a single study. The majority of adverse drug reactions were mild. The quality of the evidence was very low.

Conclusions: The findings of this review support continued recommendations for cotrimoxazole as a priority intervention for HIV-infected pregnant women. It is critical to improve data collection on maternal and infant outcomes.

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Editor’s notes: Cotrimoxazole significantly reduces morbidity and increases survival in people living with HIV (including people on antiretroviral therapy) in resource-limited settings.  However, there is some concern of potential human foetal risk when cotrimoxazole is taken during pregnancy. This systematic review found very limited evaluable data on maternal and infant outcomes associated with cotrimoxazole exposure during pregnancy. Cotrimoxazole is likely to be of most benefit in high HIV burden, low-income settings. In this context, the known benefit of treatment outweighs the potential risk to the foetus, in HIV-positive pregnant women.  Importantly, this paper highlights the need for better pregnancy outcome surveillance in women living with HIV, in resource-poor settings, which includes evaluation of exposure to cotrimoxazole and antiretroviral treatment.  

Africa, Asia, Europe, Northern America, Oceania
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