A new and affordable antibiotic called gatifloxacin should be used to treat typhoid. That’s the recommendation of Oxford University researchers who have carried out the largest clinical trial yet to compare treatments for the disease.
The results of the trial in Kathmandu, Nepal, which was funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Li Ka Shing Foundation, are published in the medical journal Lancet Infectious Diseases.
Typhoid – also known as ‘enteric fever’ – is characterised by a high fever and diarrhoea. It is transmitted through the ingestion of food or drink contaminated by the faeces or urine of infected people. It causes an estimated 26 million infections each year and over 200,000 deaths and the number of cases is particularly high in parts of South Asia.
The standard treatment for enteric fever since the 1950s was the drug chloramphenicol. The spread of multi-drug resistant forms of the Salmonella typhi and Salmonella paratyphi bacteria which cause the disease saw a move towards a new generation of antibiotics known as fluoroquinolones, but now there is evidence that the bacteria are becoming resistant to even these drugs.
Gatifloxacin – a new type of fluoroquinolone – was released in North America in 1999 under the brand name Tequin by the pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb. But it was subsequently withdrawn following a 2006 Canadian study which claimed that the drug can cause serious side effects including very high and low blood sugars.
In the study published today, researchers from the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Vietnam, together with scientists at the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit–Patan Academy of Health Sciences in Nepal, conducted an open-label, randomised, controlled trial to compare gatifloxacin against chloramphenicol.
Their study, which enrolled 844 children and adults, is the largest randomised controlled trial for enteric fever carried out to date.
The researchers found both drugs to be equally effective. They found no difference between the two drugs in terms of treatment failure and the time to clear the fever. However, the side effects, including anorexia, nausea, diarrhoea and dizziness, were significantly worse in patients being treated with chloramphenicol.