The need for red cell transfusions is reduced but not eliminated by recombinant human erythropoietin (rhEPO) in very low birthweight (VLBW) infants. To detect factors associated with the decision to transfuse VLBW infants during rhEPO treatment and to explain rhEPO 'non-responders', the subgroup of those 120 VLBW infants who were treated with rhEPO 750 IU/kg per week in the second European Multicentre rhEPO Trial was evaluated. Sixty (50%) infants received at least one transfusion during erythropoietin treatment. Transfusion was frequent in infants with extremely low birthweight (79% for 750-999 g), low gestational age (70% for < or = 28 weeks), low initial haematocrit or low initial reticulocyte count (61% for haematocrit < or = 0.48 and reticulocytes < or = 9%, respectively). Considerable differences among centres were found for sampling blood loss, iron supply, and transfusion rate, which ranged from 13% to 73% and was related to the volume of diagnostic blood loss (19% vs 80% for blood loss < 1 vs > or = 1 ml/kg per day). The prognostic variables birthweight, initial haematocrit, and gestational age were found to be most predictive for transfusion. To improve rhEPO response in VLBW infants, there is a need to minimise diagnostic blood loss, to prevent iron deficiency, and to develop rational criteria for transfusion in preterm infants.
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