Antibiotics compared with no treatment or placebo for the treatment of toxoplasma retinochoroiditis

Review question
Are antibiotics an effective treatment for toxoplasma retinochoroiditis?

Toxoplasma retinochoroiditis occurs when a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii gets into the retina (the light-sensitive layer inside the eye) and the choroid (layer of the eyeball near the retina). This causes inflammation that can scar the retina and reduce vision. Symptoms include a sudden feeling of discomfort in the eye and loss of vision, which usually resolve spontaneously within six to eight weeks. The infection can keep returning, increasing the chances of damage. Antibiotics are sometimes used to try to reduce the inflammation and scarring, or to prevent the infection from re-emerging, but it is unclear how well they work.

Study characteristics
We found four studies with a total of 268 participants. These studies were conducted in Brazil, the UK, and the US. The evidence is current to 22 February 2016.

Key results
Only one of the four studies compared the effect of antibiotic treatment for 12 months with placebo on visual acuity and found similar changes in both groups. Three studies examined the effect of antibiotics on reducing the number of recurring episodes of the disease. Two of these three studies were conducted in Brazil in adults infected with the more aggressive South American strains of the parasite, which can cause frequently recurring eye symptoms. The studies from Brazil found that the long-term antibiotics over 14 and 12 months, respectively, reduced the number of recurrent episodes of retinochoroiditis. The other study did not find that short-term (eight weeks) treatment with antibiotics made any difference. Two studies reported an improvement in intraocular inflammation in antibiotic-treated compared with untreated participants, and one study reported no changes. Two studies investigated side effects of giving antibiotics such as decreased white blood cells, loss of appetite, rashes and other allergic reactions and found only weak evidence that antibiotics increase the risk of side effects.

Quality of the evidence

There were problems with the design, conduct, and analyses of all of the studies, which could have biased the results. There was a lack of evidence about whether antibiotics (short or long term) prevent vision loss. More trials are needed, including trials of newer antibiotics.

Authors' conclusions: 

Treatment with antibiotics probably reduces the risk of recurrent toxoplasma retinochoroiditis, but there is currently no good evidence that this leads to better visual outcomes. However, absence of evidence of effect is not the same as evidence of no effect. Further trials of people with acute and chronic toxoplasma retinochoroiditis affecting any part of the retina are required to determine the effects of antibiotic treatment on visual outcomes.

Read the full abstract...

Acute toxoplasma retinochoroiditis causes transient symptoms of ocular discomfort and may lead to permanent visual loss. Antibiotic treatment aims primarily to reduce the risk of permanent visual loss, recurrent retinochoroiditis, and the severity and duration of acute symptoms. There is uncertainty about the effectiveness of antibiotic treatment.


To compare the effects of antibiotic treatment versus placebo or no treatment for toxoplasma retinochoroiditis.

Search strategy: 

We searched CENTRAL (which contains the Cochrane Eyes and Vision group Trials Register) (2016, Issue 1), Ovid MEDLINE, Ovid MEDLINE In-Process and Other Non-Indexed Citations, Ovid MEDLINE Daily, Ovid OLDMEDLINE (January 1946 to February 2016), EMBASE (January 1980 to February 2016), Latin American and Caribbean Health Sciences Literature Database (LILACS) (January 1982 to February 2016), the ISRCTN registry (, (, and the World Health Organization (WHO) International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP) ( We did not use any date or language restrictions in the electronic searches for trials. We last searched the electronic databases on 22 February 2016. We searched the reference lists of identified articles and contacted pharmaceutical companies for unpublished trials.

Selection criteria: 

We included randomised controlled trials that compared any antibiotic treatment against placebo or no treatment. We excluded trials that included immunocompromised participants. We considered any antibiotic treatment known to be active against Toxoplasma gondii. Antibiotic treatment could be given in any dose orally, by intramuscular injection, by intravenous infusion, or by intravitreal injection.

Data collection and analysis: 

The primary outcomes for this review were visual acuity at least three months after treatment and risk of recurrent retinochoroiditis. Secondary outcomes were improvement in symptoms and signs of intraocular inflammation, size of lesion, and adverse events. We used standard methodological procedures expected by Cochrane.

Main results: 

Four trials that randomised a total of 268 participants met the inclusion criteria. In all four studies antibiotic was administered orally.

One study conducted in Brazil in both adults and children compared trimethoprim-sulfamexacocol over 20 months to no treatment and was judged to be at high risk of performance, detection, and attrition bias. The other three studies compared antibiotic treatment to placebo. We judged these three studies to be at a mixture of low or unclear risk of bias due to poor reporting. One study conducted in the US in adults studied pyrimethamine-trisulfapyrimidine for eight weeks; one study conducted in the UK in children and adults evaluated pyrimethamine for four weeks; and one study conducted in Brazil in adults investigated trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole for 12 months. In the last study, all participants had active retinochoroiditis and were treated with antibiotics for 45 days prior to randomisation to trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole versus placebo.

Only the study in Brazil of trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole over 12 months, in participants with healed lesions, reported the effect of treatment on visual acuity. People treated with antibiotics may have a similar change in visual acuity compared with people treated with placebo at one year (mean difference -1.00 letters, 95% confidence interval (CI) -7.93 to 5.93 letters; 93 participants; low-quality evidence).

Treatment with antibiotics probably reduces the risk of recurrent retinochoroiditis compared with placebo (risk ratio (RR) 0.26, 95% CI 0.11 to 0.63; 227 participants; 3 studies; I2 = 0%; moderate-quality evidence); similar results were seen for acute and chronic retinochoroiditis.

The UK study of pyrimethamine for four weeks reported an improvement in intraocular inflammation in treated compared with control participants (RR 1.76, 95% CI 0.98 to 3.19; 29 participants; low-quality evidence). The study in Brazil of trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole for 12 months stated that the severity of inflammation was higher in the comparator group when compared to the antibiotic-treated group but did not provide further details. In the US study of pyrimethamine-trisulfapyrimidine for eight weeks intraocular inflammation had almost completely resolved by eight weeks in all participants, however in this study all participants received steroid treatment.

Two studies (UK and US studies) reported an increased risk of adverse events in treated participants. These were a fall in haemoglobin, leucocyte, and platelet count, nausea, loss of appetite, rash, and arthralgia.