Meds and you

27 September 2013


Zidovudine is an antiretroviral. Antiretrovirals are drugs that suppress the activity or replication of retroviruses such as HIV.


(Also known as AZT)

Zidovudine is the active ingredient of Adco-Zidovudine tablets (Nappi Code: 707960-001), Aspen Zidovudine Syrup (Nappi Code: 704039-001/002), Aspen Zidovudine Tablets (Nappi Code: 705452-001, 705455-001, 703712-002), Cipla Zidovudine Tablets (Nappi Code: 704038-001), Cipla Zidovudine Capsules (Nappi Code: 704037-001), Cipla Zidovudine Oral Solution (Nappi Code: 704039-001/002), Retrovir Capsules (Nappi Code: 784265-003/026), Retrovir Injection (Nappi Code: 825018-005), Retrovir Syrup (Nappi Code: 794236-002) and Retrovir Tablets (Nappi Code: 885317-002).

General information
Zidovudine is an antiretroviral. Antiretrovirals are drugs that suppress the activity or replication of retroviruses such as HIV. This specific antiviral is classified as a nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor, meaning that it blocks an enzyme which is essential for the retrovirus to multiply.

In South Africa zidovudine is registered for the treatment and post-exposure prevention of infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), often in combination with other antiretroviral drugs. It is also used to prevent mother-to-child transfer of the virus shortly before, during, and immediately after birth.

If not treated, HIV will advance to weaken the body's immune system, gradually chipping away to create grounds for other infections which the body will find more and more difficult to protect itself against. HIV develops into acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) when your immune system has been severely weakened.

For zidovudine to be effective it has to be taken regularly. By skipping even a few doses the risk for treatment failure increases substantially. Try to ensure that you take all your doses, and at the correct time.

It should be understood that zidovudine is not a cure for HIV or AIDS, but is one of a variety of drugs that only restricts the advance of the virus, keeping the immune system up-and-running. It is used in combination with other antiretroviral drugs and should not be prescribed on its own.

Zidovudine does not reduce transmission of HIV; you can still infect another person with the virus and the use of appropriate precautions to prevent spread to other persons is highly recommended.

How does Zidovudine work?
When HIV infects a human T cell, a type of white blood cell that plays a key role in the functioning of the immune system, viral genetic information in the form of RNA needs to be converted to DNA for the virus to have any effect. It makes use of an enzyme called reverse transcriptase to achieve this conversion. Zidovudine targets and inhibits this enzyme thus preventing the spread of HIV.

Fast facts

Drug schedule: schedule 4
Available as: zidovudine is available as tablets, capsules, injection and oral solution.
What does it do? Zidovudine is an anti-viral drug.
Overdose risk: medium
Dependence risk: low
Is zidovudine available as a generic? yes
Is zidovudine available on prescription only? yes

User information

Dietary advice: zidovudine may be taken with or without food; Be sure to take this drug with plenty of water to prevent ulceration of the oesophagus.
Stopping this medicine: do not stop taking this drug without consulting your doctor.
Prolonged use: side-effects may develop with long-term use; frequent blood tests may be required with prolonged therapy to prevent serious blood and to determine liver function.

Special precautions
Consult your doctor before using this drug if:


  • you have known liver or kidney problems
  • you are anaemic
  • you have a history of alcohol abuse

Pregnancy: avoid. Potential risk to the foetus has been reported. Consult your doctor before use, or if you are planning to fall pregnant.
Breastfeeding: avoid. Not only can HIV infection be passed to your baby through breast milk, but zidovudine is also present and transmitted in breast milk.
Porphyria: avoid. This medication may cause serious adverse effects. Consult your doctor before use.
The elderly: caution is advised in the elderly as side effects may be more severe.
Infants and children: safe for short-term use at recommended doses.
Driving and hazardous work: caution is advised as use of this medication may lead to dizziness. Avoid such activities until you know how this medication affects you.
Alcohol: avoid concomitant use of alcohol with this medication.

Possible side effects


Side Effect
Consult your doctor
Only if severe
In all cases
abdominal pain
pins and needles
muscle pain
sore throat
skin rash


Food interactions


clarithromycin reduced effect of zidovudine
fluconazole risk of zidovudine toxicity
ganciclovir risk of severe blood disorders
methadone risk of zidovudine toxicity
paracetamol risk of bone marrow suppression
phenytoin fluctuation in phenytoin levels in body
probenecid risk of zidovudine toxicity
rifampicin reduced effect of zidovudine

Many other drugs may interact with zidovudine. It is important to consult your doctor or pharmacist before combining any drug with zidovudine.

Disease interactions
Contact your doctor if you have a liver or kidney disease.

Overdose action
Zidovudine when taken in overdose is capable of having serious consequences. Seek immediate medical attention.

Recommended dosage
Adults: oral, 500-600 mg/day in 2 divided doses


This material is not intended to substitute medical advice, but is for informational purposes only. Please consult a physician for specific treatment and recommendations.

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