Treatment of Mycobacterium avium-intracellulare complex lung disease with a macrolide, ethambutol, and clofazimine

Chest. 2003 Oct;124(4):1482-6. doi: 10.1378/chest.124.4.1482.


Background: Mycobacterium avium-intracellulare (MAC) causes progressive lung disease. Recommended treatment regimens include a macrolide and a rifamycin, but drug intolerance and relapse after treatment is completed often limit successful therapy.

Methods: Consecutive individuals referred for treatment of MAC lung disease were treated with a regimen that included either clarithromycin, 500 mg bid, or azithromycin, 250 mg/d, on weekdays; ethambutol, 15 mg/kg/d; and clofazimine, 100 mg/d. The intention was to treat patients for a minimum of 12 months. The diagnosis of MAC lung disease was confirmed by multiple positive sputum culture findings in patients with typical symptoms and radiologic findings.

Results: Thirty patients (27 women and 3 men; mean age, 70 +/- 9.4 years [SD]) were treated. A total of 22 of the patients reported adverse effects from clarithromycin or azithromycin. Intolerance of clarithromycin resulted in the withdrawal of four patients before sputum conversion. The remaining patients continued treatment for an average of 10 months, and sputum findings converted to negative in all 26 patients (87%). One patient died of unrelated causes while still receiving therapy, and five patients (19%) relapsed an average of 17 months after treatment was completed.

Conclusions: Treatment with a macrolide, ethambutol, and clofazimine was successful in 20 of 30 patients (67%) with MAC lung disease and is a reasonable alternative to rifamycin-containing regimens.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antitubercular Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Clofazimine / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Ethambutol / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leprostatic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Lung Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Lung Diseases / microbiology*
  • Macrolides / therapeutic use
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mycobacterium avium-intracellulare Infection / drug therapy*


  • Antitubercular Agents
  • Leprostatic Agents
  • Macrolides
  • Ethambutol
  • Clofazimine