Objective: To determine whether azithromycin or amoxicillin is more efficacious for the treatment of erythema migrans skin lesions, which are characteristic of Lyme disease.
Design: Randomized, double-blind, double-dummy, multicenter study. Acute manifestations and sequelae were assessed using a standardized format. Baseline clinical characteristics and response were correlated with serologic results. Patients were followed for 180 days.
Setting: 12 outpatient centers in eight states.
Patients: 246 adult patients with erythema migrans lesions at least 5 cm in diameter were enrolled and were stratified by the presence of flu-like symptoms (such as fever, chills, headache, malaise, fatigue, arthralgias, and myalgias) before randomization.
Intervention: Oral treatment with either amoxicillin, 500 mg three times daily for 20 days, or azithromycin, 500 mg once daily for 7 days. Patients who received azithromycin also received a dummy placebo so that the dosing schedules were identical.
Results: Of 217 evaluable patients, those treated with amoxicillin were significantly more likely than those treated with azithromycin to achieve complete resolution of disease at day 20, the end of therapy (88% compared with 76%; P=0.024). More azithromycin recipients (16%) than amoxicillin recipients (4%) had relapse (P=0.005). A partial response at day 20 was highly predictive of relapse (27% of partial responders had relapse compared with 6% of complete responders; P<0.001). For patients treated with azithromycin, development of an antibody response increased the possibility of achieving a complete response (81% of seropositive patients achieved a complete response compared with 60% of seronegative patients; P=0.043). Patients with multiple erythema migrans lesions were more likely than patients with single erythema migrans lesions (P<0.001) to have a positive antibody titer at baseline (63% compared with 17% for IgM; 39% compared with 16% for IgG). Fifty-seven percent of patients who had relapse were seronegative at the time of relapse.
Conclusions: A 20-day course of amoxicillin was found to be an effective regimen for erythema migrans. Most patients were seronegative for Borrelia burgdorferi at the time of presentation with erythema migrans (65%) and at the time of relapse (57%).