Background and methods: In patients with the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), the rate of relapse after primary treatment for cryptococcal meningitis remains high. We conducted a controlled, double-blind trial to evaluate the efficacy of maintenance therapy with fluconazole. At entry into the study, all participants had sterile cultures of cerebrospinal fluid, blood, and urine after following a standardized course of therapy for culture-proved cryptococcal meningitis. The patients were randomly assigned to take either fluconazole or placebo as maintenance therapy. The dose of fluconazole was 100 mg daily in the first phase of study and 200 mg daily in the second phase.
Results: Of 84 patients initially enrolled, 16 (19 percent) were found to have silent, persistent infection on the basis of cultures that became positive after entry into the study; 7 other patients were lost to follow-up shortly after entry. Of the remaining 61 patients, 10 of 27 assigned to placebo (37 percent) and 1 of 34 assigned to fluconazole (3 percent) had a recurrence of cryptococcal infection at any site (difference in risk, 34 percent; 95 percent confidence interval, 15 to 53). Of the 11 recurrent infections, 7 were detected in urine obtained after prostatic massage. There were four recurrent meningeal infections in the patients taking placebo, but none in those taking fluconazole (mean duration of follow-up, 164 days) (P = 0.03). In multivariate analyses, the best predictors of recurrence-free survival were fluconazole treatment (P = 0.02; relative hazard, 13.2), a lower serum cryptococcal-antigen titer (P = 0.05; relative hazard, 1.2), and more prolonged primary therapy with flucytosine (P = 0.09; relative hazard, 1.1). Survival and toxicity were similar in the two maintenance-treatment groups.
Conclusions: In patients with AIDS, silent persistent infection is common after clinically successful treatment for cryptococcal meningitis. Maintenance therapy with fluconazole is highly effective in preventing recurrent cryptococcal infection.