Objective: To compare the efficacy of injections of 1.2 million units of benzathine penicillin G given every 3 weeks versus every 4 weeks for secondary prevention of rheumatic fever, based on the long-term outcome of patients receiving such prophylaxis.
Methods: A total of 249 consecutive patients with rheumatic fever, randomly assigned to either a 3-week or a 4-week regimen, were examined every 3 to 6 months, and followed for 794 and 775 patient-years, respectively.
Results: Compliance with each regimen was comparable: 83 (66.9%) of 124 patients in the 3-week group versus 92 (73.6%) of 125 patients in the 4-week group stayed in the program (p > 0.05). Streptococcal infections occurred less frequently in those receiving the 3-week regimen: 7.5 versus 12.6 per 100 patient-years (p < 0.01). Prophylaxis failed in 2 patients receiving the 3-week regimen and in 10 receiving the 4-week regimen (0.25 and 1.29 per 100 patient-years respectively; p = 0.015). Serum penicillin levels were adequate (> or = 0.02 micrograms/ml) in 100 (56%) of 179 samples obtained 21 days after penicillin injection in the 3-week regimen, and in 51 (33%) of 155 samples obtained 28 days after injection in the 4-week regimen (p < 0.01). Of 71 patients with mitral regurgitation in the 3-week regimen, 47 (66%) no longer had the murmur; of 87 patients in the 4-week regimen, 40 (46%) no longer had the murmur (p < 0.05).
Conclusions: This 12-year controlled study indicates that the outcome of patients with rheumatic fever is better with a 3-week than with a 4-week penicillin prophylaxis regimen. Greater emphasis and more widespread use of the 3-week regimen should be recommended.