Controlled trial of acyclovir for chickenpox evaluating time of initiation and duration of therapy and viral resistance

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Abstract

Background.

Chickenpox is prevalent in the US despite the availability of an effective vaccine. Acyclovir treatment is limited by concerns about efficacy if given after the first day of rash and by concerns about induction of viral resistance.

Objective.

Evaluate initiation and duration of acyclovir treatment of chickenpox and its effect on viral resistance.

Study design.

Randomized, placebo-controlled, double blind trial in immunocompetent patients who were stratified by age at enrollment (children, 2 to 11 years; adolescents, ≥12 to 18 years; adults, ≥19 years) and duration of rash (≤24 h vs. >24 to 48 h). Lesions were staged, counted and cultured; temperatures and symptoms were recorded daily.

Intervention.

Subjects presenting within 24 h of rash onset (Group A) were randomly assigned to 5 or 7 days of oral acyclovir treatment, 80 mg/kg/day up to a maximum of 3200 mg/day in four divided doses. Subjects whose rash was >24 to 48 h old were randomized to receive 5 days of acyclovir treatment beginning on the first (Group B1) or second study day (Group B2). Matching placebos were used to ensure that subjects uniformly received 28 doses of study compound.

Results.

Of the 177 subjects recruited Group A patients who were treated on the first day of rash had the greatest number of significantly shortened event times with 5 days of therapy being equivalent to 7 days. There also were some shorter times to events for Group B1 patients who began therapy on the second day of rash vs. Group B2 patients who started acyclovir on the third. These included: time to maximum lesion formation (adolescents, P = 0.007; children, P = 0.03); 50% healing in adolescents (P = 0.005); and residual facial lesions in adults (P = 0.047). The probability of viral shedding was significantly reduced for Group A subjects vs. Group B1 subjects (P = 0.006). Viruses shed during therapy remained susceptible to acyclovir and retained normal thymidine kinase function.

Conclusions.

Immunocompetent children, adolescents and adults with chickenpox displayed a gradation in their clinical responses to acyclovir that correlated with the time from onset of rash to initiation of therapy. Five days of therapy is sufficient because a 7-day course provided no additional benefit. The susceptibility to acyclovir of viruses shed during treatment did not change; however, the effect of therapy on resistance of latent virus was not assessed.

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