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Spirochaetal infections have been successfully treated with penicillin; more recently, erythromycin has been used in cases with known penicillin allergy. The discovery of the spirochaete Borrelia burgdorferi and the elaboration of a new generation of macrolides with properties that differ from older macrolides have led to new ways of treating spirochaetal
disease with these compounds. This paper presents data on the in vitro and in vivo efficacy of a combination of roxithromycin and co-trimoxazole against B. burgdorferi. In vitro (checkerboard technique; B. burgdorferi strain B31; modified BSK II medium) it was found that while roxithromycin showed excellent efficacy against B. burgdorferi (MIC 0.031 mg/l), co-trimoxazole had no effect. However, the combination of both chemotherapeutics led to a minor synergistic effect, decreasing the MIC for roxithromycin by one dilution step at concentrations of co-trimoxazole from 256 to 8 mg/l. In addition, a clearly reduced growth of microorganisms was seen at concentrations of roxithromycin as low as 0.015 mg/l in combination with 256 to 4 mg/l co-trimoxazole, when compared to the positive controls. Most interestingly, however, the motility of B. burgdorferi was markedly reduced even when the two drugs were combined at very low concentrations. In an in vivo, non-randomised, open, prospective pilot study it was found that of 17 patients with confirmed late
Lyme borreliosis (stage II/III), treated with combined roxithromycin (300 mg b.i.d.) and co-trimoxazole for 5 weeks, 13 (76%) recovered completely by the end of treatment, and four continued to have symptoms on follow-up at 6 and 12 months. This success rate is similar to that seen with i.v. penicillin and ceftriaxone. It appears that the reduced motility of B. burgdorferi makes the pathogen more accessible to the immune system.