Background: Treatment of second-stage sleeping sickness relies mainly on melarsoprol. Nifurtimox has been successfully used to cure melarsoprol-refractory sleeping sickness caused by Trypanosoma brucei gambiense infection.
Methods: An open, randomized trial was conducted to test for equivalence between the standard melarsoprol regimen and 3 other regimens, as follows: standard melarsoprol therapy (3 series of 3.6 mg/kg/day intravenously [iv] for 3 days, with 7-day breaks between the series); 10-day incremental-dose melarsoprol therapy (0.6 mg/kg iv on day 1, 1.2 mg/kg iv on day 2, and 1.8 mg/kg iv on days 3-10); nifurtimox monotherapy for 14 days (5 mg/kg orally 3 times per day); and consecutive 10-day melarsoprol-nifurtimox combination therapy (0.6 mg/kg iv melarsoprol on day 1, 1.2 mg/kg iv melarsoprol on day 2, and 1.2 mg/kg/day iv melarsoprol combined with oral 7.5 mg/kg nifurtimox twice a day on days 3-10). Primary outcomes were relapse, severe adverse events, and death attributed to treatment.
Results: A total of 278 patients were randomized. The frequency of adverse events was similar between the standard melarsoprol regimen and the other regimens. Encephalopathic syndromes occurred in all groups and caused all deaths that were likely due to treatment. Relapses (n=48) were observed only with the 3 monotherapy regimens.
Conclusion: A consecutive 10-day low-dose melarsoprol-nifurtimox combination is more effective than the standard melarsoprol regimen.