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PLoS One. 2011;6(10):e25308. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0025308. Epub 2011 Oct 4.

Serum penicillin G levels are lower than expected in adults within two weeks of administration of 1.2 million units.

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Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, Naval Health Research Center, San Diego, California, United States of America.


When introduced in the 1950s, benzathine penicillin G (BPG) was shown to be effective in eradicating group A beta-hemolytic streptococcus (GAS) for at least 3 weeks after administration. Several studies since the 1990s suggest that at 3-4 weeks serum penicillin G levels are less than adequate (below MIC(90) of 0.016 µg/ml). We studied these levels for 4 weeks after the recommended dose of BPG in military recruits, for whom it is used as prophylaxis against GAS. The 329 subjects (mean age 20 years) each received 1.2 million units BPG IM and gave sera 1 day post injection and twice more at staggered time points over 4 weeks. Serum penicillin G levels were measured by liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectometry. The half-life of serum penicillin G was 4.1 days. By day 11, mean levels were <0.02 µg/ml, and by day 15<0.01 µg/ml. Levels in more than 50% of the subjects were below 0.02 µg/ml on day 9, and <.01 µg/ml on day 16. There was no demonstrable effect of subject body-surface area nor of the four different lots of BPG used. These data indicate that in healthy young adults serum penicillin G levels become less than protective <2½ weeks after injection of 1.2 million units of BPG. The findings require serious consideration in future medical and public health recommendations for treatment and prophylaxis of GAS upper respiratory tract infections.

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