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A 45-year-old homeless man presents to the emergency department complaining of a 2-month history of fatigue, weight loss (10 kg), fevers, night sweats, and a productive cough. He is currently living on the street but has spent time in homeless shelters and prison in the last several years. He reports drinking 2–3 pints of hard alcohol per day for the last 15 years, and also reports a history of intravenous drug use. In the emergency department, a chest x-ray shows a right apical infiltrate. Given the high suspicion for pulmonary tuberculosis, the patient is placed in respiratory isolation. His first sputum smear shows many acid-fast bacilli, and a rapid HIV antibody test returns with a positive result. What drugs should be started for treatment of presumptive pulmonary tuberculosis? Does the patient have a heightened risk of developing medication toxicity? If so, which medication(s) would be likely to cause toxicity?


Mycobacteria are intrinsically resistant to most antibiotics. Because they grow more slowly than other bacteria, antibiotics that are most active against rapidly growing cells are relatively ineffective. Mycobacterial cells can also be dormant and thus completely resistant to many drugs or killed only very slowly. The lipid-rich mycobacterial cell wall is impermeable to many agents. Mycobacterial species are intracellular pathogens, and organisms residing within macrophages are inaccessible to drugs that penetrate these cells poorly. Finally, mycobacteria are notorious for their ability to develop resistance. Combinations of two or more drugs are required to overcome these obstacles and to prevent emergence of resistance during the course of therapy. The response of mycobacterial infections to chemotherapy is slow, and treatment must be administered for months to years, depending on which drugs are used. The drugs used to treat tuberculosis, atypical mycobacterial infections, and leprosy are described in this chapter.


Isoniazid (INH), rifampin (or other rifamycin), pyrazinamide, ethambutol, and streptomycin are the five first-line agents for treatment of tuberculosis (Table 47–1). Isoniazid and rifampin are the most active drugs. An isoniazid-rifampin combination administered for 9 months will cure 95–98% of cases of tuberculosis caused by susceptible strains. The addition of pyrazinamide to an isoniazid-rifampin combination for the first 2 months allows the total duration of therapy to be reduced to 6 months without loss of efficacy (Table 47–2). In practice, therapy is initiated with a four-drug regimen of isoniazid, rifampin, and pyrazinamide plus either ethambutol or streptomycin until susceptibility of the clinical isolate has been determined. Neither ethambutol nor streptomycin adds substantially to the overall activity of the regimen (ie, the duration of treatment cannot be further reduced if either drug is used), but they provide additional coverage if the isolate proves to be resistant to isoniazid, rifampin, or both. The prevalence of isoniazid resistance among clinical isolates in the United States is approximately 10%. Prevalence of resistance to both isoniazid and rifampin (ie, multidrug resistance) is about 3%.

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Table 47–1 Antimicrobials Used in ...

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