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Am Fam Physician. 2018;97(11):online

Original Article: Topical Antifungals for Treatment of Onychomycosis [FPIN's Help Desk Answers]

Issue Date: November 1, 2016

See additional reader comments at:

To the Editor: The authors of this article asked, “What is the rate of resolution of onychomycosis treated with topical antifungal agents?” Although the agents discussed are effective for treating onychomycosis, the number needed to treat (NNT) of 7 to 17 is potentially deceptive. Expressing effectiveness as an actual cure rate would have been more direct, clear, and patient centered.

For example, the study on efinaconazole 10% topical solution demonstrated complete cure rates of only 15% to 18% after one year.1 By comparing efinaconazole cure rates with vehicle cure rates of 3.5% to 5.5%, the NNT is indeed 7 to 10. However, it would also be correct to state that 82% to 85% of patients who used efinaconazole 10% topical solution for 52 weeks did not have a complete cure. Given that the cost of efinaconazole is approximately $600 for a single 4-mL bottle,2 the low absolute cure rate would make the value of this treatment quite low.

Similarly, the study comparing cure rates of tavaborole 5% topical solution with those of placebo yielded an NNT of 13, which might make tavaborole 5% topical solution seem more favorable than if the actual cure rates of 6.5% to 9.1% after 48 weeks of treatment were emphasized.2 Given that the cost of a single 4-mL bottle of tavaborole 5% topical solution is approximately $600,2 and that more than 90% of patients using this treatment would not have a complete cure, the value of this treatment also seems quite low.

Editor's Note:Estimated retail cost for one treatment course based on information obtained at (accessed May 4, 2018).

In Reply: We appreciate Dr. Fallert's interest in our article. In fact, we did report the absolute cure rates. The NNT offers clinical utility for physicians to understand how these topical agents for onychomycosis compare with vehicle over 48 weeks of daily treatment. Space constraints kept us from discussing the costs of these treatments and their comparative value. The bottom line is that topical treatment options for onychomycosis have limited effectiveness and high costs. We hope that our article will help guide family physicians in selecting appropriate treatments for their patients.

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This series is coordinated by Kenny Lin, MD, MPH, deputy editor.

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