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J Antimicrob Chemother. 2000 Dec;46(6):973-80.

Antagonism between penicillin and erythromycin against Streptococcus pneumoniae in vitro and in vivo.

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Department of Clinical Microbiology, Statens Serum Institut, Artillerivej 5, DK-2300 Copenhagen S, Denmark.


The combination of beta-lactam antibiotics and macrolides is often recommended for the initial empirical treatment of acute pneumonia in order to obtain activity against the most important pathogens. Theoretically, this combination may be inexpedient, as the bacteriostatic agent may antagonize the effect of the bactericidal agent. In this study, the possible interaction between penicillin and erythromycin was investigated in vitro and in vivo against four clinical isolates of Streptococcus pneumoniae with MICs of penicillin ranging from 0.016 to 0.5 mg/L and of erythromycin from 0. 25 to >128 mg/L. In vitro time-kill curves were generated with clinically relevant concentrations of penicillin (10 mg/L) and erythromycin (1 mg/L), either individually or in combination. Antagonism between penicillin and erythromycin was observed for the four isolates. In vivo interaction was investigated in the mouse peritonitis model. After intraperitoneal inoculation, penicillin and erythromycin were given either individually or in combination. For two of the four isolates, mortality was significantly higher in the groups treated with the combination of penicillin and erythromycin than in the groups treated with penicillin alone [32/36 (86%) vs. 3/12 (25%), P<0.05; and 24/36 (67%) vs. 3/12 (25%), P<0.05, respectively]. Using the mouse peritonitis model, in vivo time-kill curves showed that there was antagonism between erythromycin and penicillin for the examined isolate. The antagonism demonstrated in vitro and in vivo between penicillin and erythromycin suggests that ss-lactam antibiotics and macrolides should not be administered together unless pneumococcal infection is ruled out.

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