OBJECTIVE--To investigate prospectively the frequency and type of infections and the use of antibiotics among patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) on methotrexate (MTX) and patients with RA without MTX. METHODS--Every three months for one year 77 patients on MTX and 151 patients without MTX were asked about infections and the use of antibiotics by means of a standardised questionnaire. Medication was checked with the pharmacist. RESULTS--In the MTX group there were significantly more infections and more antibiotic therapy. The relative risks for patients on MTX of infection or antibiotics use were 1.52 (95% Confidence Interval (CI) 1.04-2.22) and 1.49 (95% CI 1.04-2.13), respectively. The relative risk of MTX for respiratory tract infections was 1.43 (95% CI 0.96-2.14) and for skin infections 2.19 (95% CI 1.45-3.31). The increased risks could only partly be explained by differences in disease severity and were not related to either duration of MTX therapy or use of prednisone. Three patients in the MTX group had herpes zoster versus one in the control group. CONCLUSIONS--Treatment with MTX increases the rate of infection and thus the use of antibiotics but does not lead to serious complications necessitating discontinuation of the drug.
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