Background: Treatment with low-dose amphotericin B (0.4 mg per kilogram of body weight per day) or oral azole therapy in patients with the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and cryptococcal meningitis has been associated with high mortality and low rates of cerebrospinal fluid sterilization.
Methods: In a double-blind multicenter trial we randomly assigned patients with a first episode of AIDS-associated cryptococcal meningitis to treatment with higher-dose amphotericin B (0.7 mg per kilogram per day) with or without flucytosine (100 mg per kilogram per day) for two weeks (step one), followed by eight weeks of treatment with itraconazole (400 mg per day) or fluconazole (400 mg per day) (step two). Treatment was considered successful if cerebrospinal fluid cultures were negative at 2 and 10 weeks or if the patient was clinically stable at 2 weeks and asymptomatic at 10 weeks.
Results: At two weeks, the cerebrospinal fluid cultures were negative in 60 percent of the 202 patients receiving amphotericin B plus flucytosine and in 51 percent of the 179 receiving amphotericin B alone (P=0.06). Elevated intracranial pressure was associated with death in 13 of 14 patients during step one. The clinical outcome did not differ significantly between the two groups. Seventy-two percent of the 151 fluconazole recipients and 60 percent of the 155 itraconazole recipients had negative cultures at 10 weeks (95 percent confidence interval for the difference in percentages, -100 to 21). The proportion of patients who had clinical responses was similar with fluconazole (68 percent) and itraconazole (70 percent). Overall mortality was 5.5 percent in the first two weeks and 3.9 percent in the next eight weeks, with no significant difference between the groups. In a multivariate analysis, the addition of flucytosine during the initial two weeks and treatment with fluconazole for the next eight weeks were independently associated with cerebrospinal fluid sterilization.
Conclusions: For the initial treatment of AIDS-associated cryptococcal meningitis, the use of higher-dose amphotericin B plus flucytosine is associated with an increased rate of cerebrospinal fluid sterilization and decreased mortality at two weeks, as compared with regimens used in previous studies. Although consolidation therapy with fluconazole is associated with a higher rate of cerebrospinal fluid sterilization, itraconazole may be a suitable alternative for patients unable to take fluconazole.