Penicillin vs. erythromycin in the treatment of diphtheria

Rachel Kneen*, Pham Ngoc Giao, Tom Solomon, Tran Thi My Van, Nguyen Thi Tuyet Hoa, Tran Buu Long, John Wain, Nicholas P.J. Day, Tran Tinh Hien, Christopher M. Parry, Nicholas J. White

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)


In an open-label, randomized trial, 44 Vietnamese children with diphtheria were given penicillin therapy (intramuscular benzylpenicillin, 50,000 U/[kg · d] for 5 days and then oral penicillin, 50 mg/[kg · d] for 5 days), and 42 were given erythromycin therapy (50 mg/[kg · d] orally for 10 days). There were no differences in times to membrane clearance or bacteriologic clearance, but median times to fever clearance were 27 hours (95% confidence interval [CI], 19-30; range, 0-124 hours) for penicillin recipients and 46 hours (95% CI, 34-54; range, 0-148 hours) for erythromycin recipients (P = .0004). In the penicillin group, acute treatment failed for one patient, and one patient relapsed. Three patients in the penicillin group developed diphtheritic myocarditis as evidenced by abnormal electrocardiograms. Erythromycin did not cause prolongation of the QT interval corrected for heart rate. Cultures of specimens from 15 patients (17.4%) were positive for toxigenic Corynebacterium diphtheriae. All isolates were susceptible to penicillin, but four isolates (27%), all of which were from patients who received penicillin treatment, were resistant to erythromycin (minimum inhibitory concentrations, >64 mg/L). Penicillin is recommended as first-line treatment for diphtheria in Vietnam.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)845-850
Number of pages6
JournalClinical Infectious Diseases
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1999

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Financial support: This work was funded by the Wellcome Trust of Great Britain.


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