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Randomised trial of 0.2% chlorhexidine gluconate and 2.5% natamycin for fungal keratitis in Bangladesh
  1. M Rezanur Rahmana,
  2. Gordon J Johnsona,
  3. Rabiul Husainb,
  4. Shahe A Howladerb,
  5. Darwin C Minassiana
  1. aInstitute of Ophthalmology, Department of Preventive Ophthalmology, University College London, Bath Street, London, EC1V 9EL, bEye Infirmary and Training Complex, Chittagong, Bangladesh
  1. Professor Gordon Johnson, International Centre for Eye Health, 11–43 Bath Street, London EC1V 9EL.


AIM The management of suppurative keratitis due to filamentous fungi presents severe problems in tropical countries. The aim was to demonstrate the efficacy of chlorhexidine 0.2% drops as an inexpensive antimicrobial agent, which could be widely distributed for fungal keratitis.

METHODS Successive patients presenting to the Chittagong Eye Institute and Training Complex with corneal ulcers were admitted to the trial when fungal hyphae had been seen on microscopy. They were randomised to drop treatment with chlorhexidine gluconate 0.2% or the standard local treatment natamycin 2.5%. The diameters, depths, and other features of the ulcers were measured and photographed at regular intervals. The outcome measures were healing at 21 days and presence or absence of toxicity. If there was not a favourable response at 5 days, “treatment failure” was recorded and the treatment was changed to one or more of three options, which included econazole 1% in the latter part of the trial.

RESULTS 71 patients were recruited to the trial, of which 35 were randomised to chlorhexidine and 36 to natamycin. One allocated to natamycin grew bacteria and therefore was excluded from the analysis. None of the severe ulcers was fully healed at 21 days of treatment, but three of those allocated to chlorhexidine eventually healed in times up to 60 days. Of the non-severe ulcers, 66.7% were healed at 21 days with chlorhexidine and 36.0% with natamycin, a relative efficacy (RE) of 1.85 (CL 1.01–3.39, p = 0.04). If those ulcers were excluded where fungi were seen in the scraping but did not grow on culture, the estimated efficacy ratio does not change but becomes less precise because of smaller numbers. Equal numbers ofAspergillus (22) andFusarium (22) were grown. TheAspergillus were the most resistant to either primary treatment.

CONCLUSIONS Chlorhexidine may have potential as an inexpensive topical agent for fungal keratitis and warrants further assessment as a first line treatment in situations where microbiological facilities and a range of antifungal agents are not available.

  • fungal keratitis
  • corneal ulcers
  • chlorhexidine
  • Bangladesh
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