Vancomycin-induced "red man syndrome" (RMS) is mediated in part by histamine release, and its severity is correlated with the area under the plasma histamine concentration-time curve. Ten adult male volunteers participated in a randomized, double-blind, two-way crossover trial (1-week washout interval between regimens) to determine the effect of 1- and 2-h infusions of vancomycin (1.0 g) on histamine release and on the frequency and severity of RMS. The severity of RMS was classified a priori as mild, moderate, or severe from a combined score of pruritus and extent of erythema. Serial concentrations of histamine in plasma and concentrations of vancomycin in serum were measured at baseline and during and after each infusion. Of 10 subjects, 8 had evidence of RMS during the 1-h infusion (3 mild, 3 moderate, and 2 severe), whereas only 3 of the 10 subjects (all mild) had RMS during the 2-h infusion (P less than 0.05). The 1-h infusion was associated with a significantly greater peak concentration of histamine in plasma (1.8 +/- 0.7 versus 1.0 +/- 0.3 ng/ml, P = 0.004) and a greater total release of histamine (74.3 +/- 54.1 versus 36.4 +/- 22.6 ng.min/ml, P = 0.017) than was the 2-h infusion. These data suggest that administration of vancomycin over 2 h reduces the frequency and severity of RMS and the amount of histamine released compared with those after a 1-h infusion in healthy volunteers.