Two common antibiotics used to combat traveler's diarrhea also can prevent the rare pneumonia that is the leading cause of death among AIDS patients, according to a study released today.
In a study of 60 people, the two drugs prevented 30 patients with early stages of AIDS from developing pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, according to the report published in Friday's Journal of the American Medical Assn.
The lead researcher, Dr. Margaret Fischl, head of AIDS research at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, said patients who received the antibiotics in the three-year study lived longer than those who did not.
The findings may be important because 50% to 70% of AIDS patients develop pneumocystis carinii infection and about 20% of them die as a result of it, the report noted.
"Anyone who has AIDS or who is symptomatic for HIV (the AIDS virus) infection should be put on this regimen--absolutely positively," Fischl said. "That's our recommendation, and that's how strongly we feel about this. It's the most important weapon we have against AIDS right now."
All the patients in the study had been newly diagnosed as having Kaposi's sarcoma, a rare skin cancer associated with acquired immune deficiency syndrome. But none had developed pneumocystis carinii pneumonia or any of the other opportunistic infections that eventually kill AIDS patients.
Between January, 1984, and June, 1985, 30 patients were given sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim while the other 30 were not. None in the drug group developed pneumonia while they received the drugs, but 16 of the non-drug group developed the pneumonia, the results showed.
Fischl and other researchers at the University of Miami School of Medicine also found that the AIDS patients receiving the antibiotics lived longer than those who did not.
During the study, 28 of the 30 patients, or 93%, not receiving the antibiotics died, compared with 18 patients, or 60%, in the group that took the drugs. The study did not say whether any of the participants are still living. The patients were last examined in June, 1987.
In 1982, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the same two antibiotics were effective in quickly relieving the misery of travelers' diarrhea, a disorder that upsets the vacations of millions of Americans who go to Mexico and other warm weather countries.
The new study recommended that all AIDS patients at risk of developing the pneumonia be considered for therapy with the two antibiotics.