Background: Surgical debridement was the standard treatment for Mycobacterium ulcerans infection (Buruli ulcer disease) until WHO issued provisional guidelines in 2004 recommending treatment with antimicrobial drugs (streptomycin and rifampicin) in addition to surgery. These recommendations were based on observational studies and a small pilot study with microbiological endpoints. We investigated the efficacy of two regimens of antimicrobial treatment in early-stage M ulcerans infection.
Methods: In this parallel, open-label, randomised trial undertaken in two sites in Ghana, patients were eligible for enrolment if they were aged 5 years or older and had early (duration <6 months), limited (cross-sectional diameter <10 cm), M ulcerans infection confirmed by dry-reagent-based PCR. Eligible patients were randomly assigned to receive intramuscular streptomycin (15 mg/kg once daily) and oral rifampicin (10 mg/kg once daily) for 8 weeks (8-week streptomycin group; n=76) or streptomycin and rifampicin for 4 weeks followed by rifampicin and clarithromycin (7.5 mg/kg once daily), both orally, for 4 weeks (4-week streptomycin plus 4-week clarithromycin group; n=75). Randomisation was done by computer-generated minimisation for study site and type of lesion (ulceration or no ulceration). The randomly assigned allocation was sent from a central site by cell-phone text message to the study coordinator. The primary endpoint was lesion healing at 1 year after the start of treatment without lesion recurrence or extensive surgical debridement. Analysis was by intention-to-treat. This trial is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT00321178.
Findings: Four patients were lost to follow-up (8-week streptomycin, one; 4-week streptomycin plus 4-week clarithromycin, three). Since these four participants had healed lesions at their last assessment, they were included in the analysis for the primary endpoint. 73 (96%) participants in the 8-week streptomycin group and 68 (91%) in the 4-week streptomycin plus 4-week clarithromycin group had healed lesions at 1 year (odds ratio 2.49, 95% CI 0.66 to infinity; p=0.16, one-sided Fisher's exact test). No participants had lesion recurrence at 1 year. Three participants had vestibulotoxic events (8-week streptomycin, one; 4-week streptomycin plus 4-week clarithromycin, two). One participant developed an injection abscess and two participants developed an abscess close to the initial lesion, which was incised and drained (all three participants were in the 4-week streptomycin plus 4-week clarithromycin group).
Interpretation: Antimycobacterial treatment for M ulcerans infection is effective in early, limited disease. 4 weeks of streptomycin and rifampicin followed by 4 weeks of rifampicin and clarithromycin has similar efficacy to 8 weeks of streptomycin and rifampicin; however, the number of injections of streptomycin can be reduced by switching to oral clarithromycin after 4 weeks.
Funding: European Union (EU FP6 2003-INCO-Dev2-015476) and Buruli Ulcer Groningen Foundation.
Copyright 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.