The bacterium Rhodococcus equi has been a known cause of life-threatening pneumonia in foals for many years. But the ideal treatment for R. equi infection remains debatable because of the lack of research comparing the efficacy of each possible treatment in foals. However, according to Steeve Giguère, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, a University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine professor and the Marguerite Thomas Hodgson Chair in Equine Studies, current evidence suggests that the most successful treatments are a combination of the drug rifampin and a macrolide (an antimicrobial drug). He presented a review of treatments for R. equi foal pneumonia at the 2010 American Association of Equine Practitioners convention, held Dec. 4-8 in Baltimore.

Giguère said that veterinarians have used the combination of rifampin and erythromycin (a macrolide) since the 1980s, and with this strategy they have drastically reduced the number of fatalities resulting from R. equi pneumonia, at least compared to historical data.

“The combination of a macrolide and rifampin is synergistic both in vitro (in the laboratory) and in vivo (in a live animal), and the use of the two classes of drugs reduces the likelihood of R. equi resistance to either drug,” he said. Giguère added that rifampin and macrolides are liquid-soluble, a trait that “allows the drugs to penetrate cell membranes.”

In addition to erythromycin, veterinarians have begun using two more recently developed macrolides to treat R. equi infections. Both azithromycin and clarithromycin have more modern chemical properties, meaning a smaller