Generic Name: abacavir, Oral tablet

Generic Name:

abacavir, Oral tablet

Ziagen

All Brands

  • Ziagen
SECTION 1 of 5

Highlights for abacavir

Oral tablet
1

Ziagen is an oral medication used in combination with other drugs to treat human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection.

2

The usual adult dose is either 300 mg, taken twice per day, or 600 mg, taken once per day.

3

Ziagen can cause a drug hypersensitivity reaction and severe rash. People with a certain gene form (allele) are at higher risk. You may need a special blood test before starting Ziagen to see if you have this allele.

4

If you have heart disease, taking this medication may increase your risk of heart attack.

5

Your doctor may make sure that you haven’t had a drug hypersensitivity reaction to this medication in the past. If you have used this drug and had a reaction, having a second hypersensitivity reaction to this drug could be very severe, even deadly.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION

FDA Warning

This drug has a Black Box Warning. This is the most serious warning from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Though the medication can still be sold and used, a black box warning alerts doctors and patients to potentially dangerous effects.

May cause severe and potentially fatal drug hypersensitivity reaction. Symptoms of a hypersensitivity reaction may include:

  • fever
  • rash
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • stomach pain
  • fatigue
  • achiness
  • trouble breathing
  • cough
  • sore throat

Your doctor may give you a blood test for the gene HLA-B*5701. People with this allele are at much higher risk of hypersensitivity. If you have this allele, your doctor may give you a different drug. 

If you stop taking Ziagen and then want to start taking it again, your doctor will need to know if you have this allele. You may need to be tested again.

If you have a hypersensitivity reaction to Ziagen, you should never take it again. Taking it a second time could lead to dangerously low blood pressure and could even be fatal. If you’re hypersensitive to Ziagen, make sure that you don’t take any medications that contain abacavir. 

May cause lactic acidosis and liver enlargement. Lactic acidosis is a serious change in the body’s chemical balance. In this condition, lactic acid builds up in your blood and the amount of oxygen in your blood drops. This can cause nausea and weakness. If you have these symptoms in addition to swelling or enlargement of your abdomen contact your doctor right away. Some cases of lactic acidosis have been severe and sometimes fatal.

May increase risk of heart attack

If you have a history of coronary heart disease, you may be at higher risk for a heart attack if you take Ziagen. Tell your doctor about your heart disease before you take this drug.

May cause immune reconstitution syndrome

Your recovering immune system may cause infections you’ve had treated in the past to return. Examples of past infections include fungal infections, pneumonia, or tuberculosis. Your doctor will need to re-treat these old infections if this happens.

Drug Features

Ziagen is a prescription drug. It is available in these forms: oral tablet, oral solution.

This drug is used as part of a combination therapy. That means you will need to take it in combination with other drugs.

Why It's Used

Ziagen is used in combination with other drugs to treat human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. It’s approved for adults and children who are at least 3 months old. Ziagen doesn’t cure HIV, but it may help to control it.

How It Works

Ziagen works by blocking an enzyme called reverse transcriptase. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) needs this enzyme to make copies of itself.

More Details

How It Works

Ziagen works by blocking an enzyme called reverse transcriptase. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) needs this enzyme to make copies of itself. When Ziagen blocks the enzyme, the virus isn’t able to make copies and spread as quickly.

Ziagen must be combined with other antiretroviral drug(s) to control your HIV.

SECTION 2 of 5

abacavir Side Effects

Oral tablet

Most Common Side Effects

The most common side effects that occur with Ziagen include:

  • changes in the distribution of fat on your body, such as an increasing amount of fat on your neck and back

  • headache

  • fatigue

  • unusual dreams or sleep problems

  • fever

  • chills

  • nausea

  • ear, nose, or throat infections

  • skin rashes. If you have a skin rash that is severe, appears suddenly, or occurs with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tiredness, achiness, trouble breathing, cough or sore throat, contact your doctor right away or call 9-1-1. This is a medical emergency.

These side effects should disappear with time. If they are persistent or bothersome, call your doctor.

Serious Side Effects

If you experience any of these serious side effects, call your doctor right away. If your symptoms are potentially life threatening, or if you think you’re experiencing a medical emergency, call 9-1-1.

  • Serious and possibly fatal drug hypersensitivity reaction. Call 9-1-1 if you have several of these symptoms at the same time, especially if they happen suddenly:

    • fever
    • rash
    • nausea
    • diarrhea
    • vomiting
    • stomach pain
    • fatigue
    • achiness
    • trouble breathing
    • cough
    • sore throat
  • lactic acidosis and liver enlargement. Lactic acidosis is a serious change in the body’s chemical balance. In this condition, lactic acid builds up in your blood and the amount of oxygen in your blood drops. This can cause nausea and weakness. If you have these symptoms in addition to swelling or enlargement of your abdomen, contact your doctor right away. Some cases of lactic acidosis have been severe and sometimes fatal.

  • immune reconstitution syndrome. Your recovering immune system may cause infections you’ve had treated in the past to return. Examples of past infections include fungal infections, pneumonia, or tuberculosis. Your doctor will need to re-treat these old infections if this happens.
  • increased risk of heart attack in people with a history of coronary heart disease

Pharmacist's Advice
Healthline Pharmacist Editorial Team

Ziagen does not cause drowsiness.

Disclaimer: Our goal is to provide you with the most relevant and current information. However, because drugs affect each person differently, we cannot guarantee that this information includes all possible side effects. This information is not a substitute for medical advice. Always discuss possible side effects with a healthcare provider who knows your medical history.
SECTION 3 of 5

abacavir May Interact with Other Medications

Oral tablet

Ziagen can interact with other medications, herbs, or vitamins you might be taking. That’s why your doctor should manage all of your medications carefully. If you’re curious about how this drug might interact with something else you’re taking, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

Note: You can reduce your chances of drug interactions by having all of your prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy. That way, a pharmacist can check for possible drug interactions.

Alcohol Interaction

Ziagen interacts with alcohol. Alcohol can increase the amount of Ziagen absorbed into your body and it may take longer to leave your body. This can cause increased side effects or toxicity of the drug. Avoid consuming alcohol if you’re taking Ziagen.

Medications That Might Interact with This Drug

Methadone

Taking methadone with Ziagen can decrease the levels of methadone in your body. Your methadone dose may need to be increased.

Disclaimer: Our goal is to provide you with the most relevant and current information. However, because drugs interact differently in each person, we cannot guarantee that this information includes all possible interactions. This information is not a substitute for medical advice. Always speak with your healthcare provider about possible interactions with all prescription drugs, vitamins, herbs and supplements, and over-the-counter drugs that you are taking.

People with liver disease

Ziagen is processed in the liver. If you have moderate or severe liver disease, the amount of Ziagen in your body could get to high, increasing your risk of side effects or serious toxicity.

You may still be able to take Ziagen if you have mild liver disease, but you may need a different dose. Adults with liver disease are sometimes treated with the oral solution, which allows using a smaller dose than the tablets. You may need additional monitoring for your liver disease while you take this drug.

Pregnant women

Ziagen has not been assigned to a pregnancy category by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While some research in animals has shown some risk of adverse effects to the fetus, information from the Antiretroviral Pregnancy Registry suggests that Ziagen does not increase the risk for fetal birth defects in humans. In most cases, the benefits of taking Ziagen while pregnant will outweigh the risks.

If you’re pregnant or plan to become pregnant, talk to your doctor before taking Ziagen.

Women who are nursing

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, you shouldn’t breastfeed your infant if you have human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. There is a risk of passing HIV to your baby. Additionally, animal studies showed Ziagen passes through animal breast milk.

For Children

Children at least 3 months old can be treated with Ziagen. Children may use the oral solution (liquid), which is dosed according to a child’s weight.

Children may be curious how the liquid form of this drug tastes. If you use the oral solution (liquid), make sure to keep it out of the reach of children.  

When to call the doctor

Call your doctor if you experience:

  • fever
  • weakness
  • chills
  • night sweats
  • sore throat
  • joint pain

These symptoms may be a sign the drug isn’t working, and you may need a different treatment.

Allergies

Ziagen can cause a very severe drug hypersensitivity reaction. Symptoms may include:

  • rash
  • fever
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • stomach pain
  • fatigue
  • achiness
  • trouble breathing
  • cough
  • sore throat 

Call your doctor right away or call 9-1-1 if you think you’re having a hypersensitivity reaction to this drug.

SECTION 4 of 5

How to Take abacavir (Dosage)

Oral tablet

All possible dosages and forms may not be included here. Your dose, form, and how often you take it will depend on:

  • your age
  • the condition being treated
  • how severe your condition is
  • other medical conditions you have
  • how you react to the first dose

What Are You Taking This Medication For?

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection

Brand: Ziagen

Form: Oral tablet
Strengths: 300 mg
Form: Oral solution
Strengths: 20 mg per mL
Adult Dosage (ages 18-64 years)

300 mg, taken twice per day, spaced evenly throughout the day, or 600 mg, taken once per day.

Child Dosage (ages 3 months-17 years)

This dose is based on a child’s weight. Your child’s doctor will determine the correct dose for your child.

In children who can swallow tablets and weigh:

  • 25 kg or more—300 mg (1 tablet), taken twice daily or 600 mg (2 tablets), taken once daily.
  • 20–25 kg—150 mg (1/2 tablet), taken in the morning and 300 mg (1 tablet), taken in the evening or 450 mg (1 and ½ tablets), taken once per day.
  • 14–20 kg—150 mg (1/2 tablet), taken twice per day or 300 mg (1 tablet), taken once per day.

In children who cannot swallow tablets: 8 mg/kg of oral solution, taken twice per day, spaced evenly throughout the day, or 16 mg/kg taken once per day.

The dose is based on a child’s weight. In most cases, the total daily dose will be around 16–20 mg/kg, with a maximum of 600 mg per day.

Child Dosage (ages 0-2 months)

Dosage has not been established for infants younger than 3 months.

Senior Dosage (ages 65 years and older)

There are no specific recommendations for senior dosing. Older adults may process drugs more slowly. A normal adult dose may cause levels of the drug to be higher than normal. If you’re a senior, you may need a lower dose or you may need a different schedule.

Special considerations

Liver Disease: You may still be able to take Ziagen if you have mild liver disease, but you may need a lowered dose. A dose of 200 mg, taken twice a day, spaced evenly throughout the day, is recommended. Adults with liver disease are sometimes treated with the oral solution, which allows using a smaller dose than the tablets. In these adults, 10 mL of oral solution is taken twice a day. Ziagen is not recommended if you have moderate to severe liver disease.

Disclaimer: Our goal is to provide you with the most relevant and current information. However, because drugs affect each person differently, we cannot guarantee that this list includes all possible dosages. This information is not a substitute for medical advice. Always to speak with your doctor or pharmacist about dosages that are right for you.
Pharmacist's Advice
Healthline Pharmacist Editorial Team

Keeping human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection under control requires lifelong treatment. There can be serious health consequences if you don’t take this drug exactly how your doctor tells you.

If You Don’t Take it at All

If you don’t take it at all, your HIV infection will eventually reduce your immunity to a point that your body won’t be able to defend itself against many types of infections, even infections that are commonly cured in people who don’t have HIV infection.

If You Stop or Miss Doses

If you stop taking this medication, miss doses, or don’t take it on schedule, the amount of medication in your body fluctuates. This can allow the HIV in your body to become resistant to the drug, which means the drug stops working.

If You Don’t Take it on Schedule

Taking your drug at the same time every day keeps a constant amount of the drug in your body. This helps make the drug as effective as possible at keeping the virus under control.

What to Do if You Miss a Dose

If you miss a dose, take it as soon as you remember. If it’s within a few hours of the time for your next dose, wait and take the next dose on schedule.

Never double up on doses to catch up. This increases your risk of drug toxicity and more serious side effects.  Take just one dose at a time. Never try to catch up by taking two doses at once. You could increase the risk of toxic side effects.

How Can I Tell if the Drug Is Working?

To see how well your treatment is working, your doctor will check your:

  • virus count. A virus count measures the number of copies of the HIV virus in your body. A decreased virus count is a sign that your treatment is working.
  • CD4 cell count. A CD4 cell count measures the number of CD4 cells in your body. CD4 cells are white blood cells that play a role in your immune system. An increased CD4 cell count is a sign that your treatment is working.

Ziagen is a long-term drug treatment.

If you take this medication twice a day, space your doses evenly

If you take it once a day, take it at the same time every day. This will give you the best effect and reduce your chance of side effects.

The tablet should not be crushed

However, it can be cut or split if half of a dose is needed. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about the oral solution (liquid) form if you can’t swallow the tablets.

Store Ziagen tablets at room temperature: 68–77°F (20–25°C)

You can store the oral solution at room temperature or in the refrigerator. Don’t allow it to freeze.

Keep the oral solution in your carry-on bag or purse when travelling by airplane

Travel with the solution in its original packaging from the pharmacy so that airport security officials can easily identify it when you go through security screening.

Clinical Monitoring

Your doctor may check your liver and kidney function (before you start taking this medication.

To see how well your treatment is working, your doctor will check your:

  • virus count. The virus count measures the number of copies of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in your body. A decreased virus count can be a sign that your treatment is working.
  • CD4 cell count. A CD4 cell count measures the amount of CD4 cells in your body. CD4 cells are white blood cells that play a role in your immune system. An increased CD4 cell count is a sign that your treatment is working.

Not every pharmacy stocks this drug, so call ahead

If you only need a few tablets, you should call and ask if your pharmacy dispenses only a small number of tablets. Some pharmacies can't dispense only part of a bottle.

This drug is often available from specialty pharmacies through your insurance plan. These pharmacies operate like mail order pharmacies and ship the drug to you.

In larger cities, there will often be human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) pharmacies where you can have your prescriptions filled. Ask your doctor if there's an HIV pharmacy in your area.

Are There Any Alternatives?

There are many drugs and combinations that can treat human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. Some may be more suitable for you than others. Talk to your doctor about possible alternatives.

What does the pill look like?

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SECTION 5 of 5

How Much Does abacavir Cost?

Oral tablet
We've partnered with GoodRX so you can compare prices and save money on your next prescription. Check out the lowest cash prices below and enter your zip code to find the best deal near you.

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Lowest price for abacavir

Walgreens $234.11
Rite-Aid $248.58
Walmart $256.90
These represent the lowest cash prices for abacavir and may be lower than your insurance.

Find the lowest prices of abacavir near you

These represent the lowest cash prices for abacavir and may be lower than your insurance.

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Content developed in collaboration with Susan J. Bliss, RPh, MBA

Medically reviewed by Creighton University, Center for Drug Information and Evidence-Based Practice on April 30, 2015

Disclaimer: Healthline has made every effort to make certain that all information is factually correct, comprehensive, and up-to-date. However, this article should not be used as a substitute for the knowledge and expertise of a licensed healthcare professional. You should always consult your doctor or other healthcare professional before taking any medication. The drug information contained herein is subject to change and is not intended to cover all possible uses, directions, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. The absence of warnings or other information for a given drug does not indicate that the drug or drug combination is safe, effective, or appropriate for all patients or all specific uses.

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