PICnIC: Paediatric Intensive Care and Infection Control


Each year, around 20,000 children are admitted to paediatric intensive care units (PICUs) in the UK. Critically ill children are at a higher risk of hospital-acquired infections. Many of these infections are caused by ‘bad’ bacteria in the digestive tract, such as those in the mouth and stomach. When someone is very poorly, the number of ‘bad’ bacteria may rise and spread to other organs. This can then cause severe illnesses, such as pneumonia and sepsis, and lead to long-term health problems, increased hospital costs and even death.

All PICUs have several methods to reduce the risk of hospital-acquired infections, such as providing antibacterial gel on units. One possible method is to treat patients with antibiotics that stop the growth of bacteria in the digestive tract. This treatment is called selective decontamination of the digestive tract (SDD). It has been shown in adults to reduce the number of hospital-acquired infections and improve survival. However, it is unclear if it works in children.

The aim of the PICnIC pilot study is to determine the feasibility of conducting a larger scale study to compare the effects of SDD with standard infection control in critically ill children.


368 children across six PICUs took part in the study. The PICUs were randomly allocated to continue with their standard infection control procedures or to give SSD. The study also examined the views of patients, caregivers and healthcare professionals to assess their opinions on the feasibility of a larger scale study.


The PICnIC study had a higher than average recruitment rate when compared with other UK PICUs and recruited children were representative of the wider PICU population. The majority of children received their allocated treatment according to the study guidelines. Parents and staff found the study to be acceptable with adaptations, such as including further training to improve consent and communication. Clinical outcomes that were considered important included duration of organ failure and hospital stay, healthcare-acquired infections and survival.


These findings indicate that a larger scale trial is feasible with some modifications to the inclusion criteria.

Who led the study?

Dr Nazima Pathan, University of Cambridge

This study is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) – Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Programme (Project: 16/152/01)


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