Publications Date
Caniglia EC, Zash R, Fennell C, Diseko M, Mayondi G, Heintz J, Mmalane M, Makhema J, Lockman S, Mumford SL, Murray EJ, Hernández-Díaz S, Shapiro R.

Background: Randomized trials in pregnancy are extremely challenging, and observational studies are often the only option to evaluate medication safety during pregnancy. However, such studies are often susceptible to immortal time bias if treatment initiation occurs after time zero of follow-up. We describe how emulating a sequence of target trials avoids immortal time bias and apply the approach to estimate the safety of antibiotic initiation between 24 and 37 weeks gestation on preterm delivery.

Methods: The Tsepamo Study captured birth outcomes at hospitals throughout Botswana from 2014 to 2021. We emulated 13 sequential target trials of antibiotic initiation versus no initiation among individuals presenting to care <24 weeks, one for each week from 24 to 37 weeks. For each trial, eligible individuals had not previously initiated antibiotics. We also conducted an analysis susceptible to immortal time bias by defining time zero as 24 weeks and exposure as antibiotic initiation between 24 and 37 weeks. We calculated adjusted risk ratios (RR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) for preterm delivery.

Results: Of 111,403 eligible individuals, 17,009 (15.3%) initiated antibiotics between 24 and 37 weeks. In the sequence of target trials, RRs (95% CIs) ranged from 1.04 (0.90, 1.19) to 1.24 (1.11, 1.39) (pooled RR: 1.11 [1.06, 1.15]). In the analysis susceptible to immortal time bias, the RR was 0.90 (0.86, 0.94).

Conclusions: Defining exposure as antibiotic initiation at any time during follow-up after time zero resulted in substantial immortal time bias, making antibiotics appear protective against preterm delivery. Conducting a sequence of target trials can avoid immortal time bias in pregnancy studies.