BACKGROUND: Visceral leishmaniasis (VL) has become an important opportunistic infection in persons with HIV-infection in VL-endemic areas. The co-infection leads to profound immunosuppression and high rate of annual VL recurrence. This study assessed the effectiveness, safety and feasibility of monthly pentamidine infusions to prevent recurrence of VL in HIV co-infected patients.
METHODS: A single-arm, open-label trial was conducted at two leishmaniasis treatment centers in northwest Ethiopia. HIV-infected patients with a VL episode were included after parasitological cure. Monthly infusions of 4mg/kg pentamidine-isethionate diluted in normal-saline were started for 12months. All received antiretroviral therapy (ART). Time-to-relapse or death was the primary end point.
RESULTS: Seventy-four patients were included. The probability of relapse-free survival at 6months and at 12 months was 79% and 71% respectively. Renal failure, a possible drug-related serious adverse event, occurred in two patients with severe pneumonia. Forty-one patients completed the regimen taking at least 11 of the 12 doses. Main reasons to discontinue were: 15 relapsed, five died and seven became lost to follow-up. More patients failed among those with a CD4+cell count ≤ 50cells/μl, 5/7 (71.4%) than those with counts above 200 cells/μl, 2/12 (16.7%), (p = 0.005).
CONCLUSION: Pentamidine secondary prophylaxis led to a 29% failure rate within one year, much lower than reported in historical controls (50%-100%). Patients with low CD4+cell counts are at increased risk of relapse despite effective initial VL treatment, ART and secondary prophylaxis. VL should be detected and treated early enough in patients with HIV infection before profound immune deficiency installs.