Generic Name: stavudine, Oral capsule

Zerit

All Brands

  • Zerit
SECTION 1 of 4

Highlights for stavudine

Oral capsule
1

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

2

The adult dose of this drug is based on body weight. The dose is usually 30 mg or 40 mg, taken twice per day.

3

Some people experience tingling or numbness in the fingers and toes. See a doctor right away if this occurs. You may need to stop taking the drug.

4

Zerit must be taken with other antiretroviral drugs for a complete treatment for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. It’s not enough to treat HIV by itself.

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 lactic acidosis and liver enlargement. Lactic acidosis is a change in the body’s chemical balance. This is a serious condition in which lactic acid builds up in the blood. Medications like Zerit can cause your body to make too much lactic acid. They can also make it harder for your liver to break down lactic acid. There is also a risk of liver toxicity when taking Zerit. May cause liver enlargement (hepatomegaly) with fatty liver (hepatic steatosis). If you already have liver disease, including hepatitis, you are at higher risk. Symptoms of these conditions include nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, unexplained weight loss, and weakness. See a doctor right away if you experience these symptoms and have swelling or enlargement of your abdomen area. The risk is higher in pregnant women, especially if they are taking Zerit with didanosine. These conditions may be harder to detect if your are pregnant because vomiting could be due to morning sickness.

May cause pancreatitis. Swelling and inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) in patients taking Zerit with didanosine is a rare side effect.  Signs may include:

  • stomach bloating
  • pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • tenderness when touching the stomach

You may be at greater risk if you’ve had pancreatitis before.

May cause tingling or numbness

Some people experience tingling, numbness, or other neurologic symptoms in their hands or feet. See your doctor right away if you have these symptoms or if you feel weak in your arms or legs. You may need to stop taking this drug.

May cause immune reconstitution syndrome

Your recovering immune system may cause infections you’ve had in the past to return. Examples of past infections include fungal infections, pneumonia, or tuberculosis. Your doctor will need to treat these old infections if this happens. It is important that you continue to take your Zerit while you’re being treated for these conditions.

Drug Features

Zerit is a prescription drug. It is available in these forms: oral capsules, oral solution.

Zerit is available in its generic form. Generic drugs may cost less but don't always come in the same strengths or forms as brand name drugs. Talk to your healthcare provider to see if the generic will work for you.

Zerit 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

Zerit is used in combination with other antiretroviral drugs to slow the progression of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection.

It’s approved to treat HIV infection in adults and children who are newborn to 18 years old.

How It Works

Zerit blocks an enzyme called reverse transcriptase, which human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) needs to make copies of itself. Zerit works to prevent HIV from making copies of itself as quickly, which slows down the disease.

More Details

How It Works

Zerit blocks an enzyme called reverse transcriptase, which human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) needs to make copies of itself. Zerit works to prevent HIV from making copies of itself as quickly, which slows down the disease.

Zerit must be used in combination with at least two other antiretroviral drugs to control your HIV infection.

SECTION 2 of 4

stavudine Side Effects

Oral capsule

Most Common Side Effects

The most common side effects that occur with Zerit include:

  • headache

  • diarrhea

  • tingling or numbness of your hands and feet

  • rash

  • nausea

  • vomiting

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

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.

  • immune reconstitution syndrome. Your recovering immune system may cause infections you’ve had in the past to return. Examples of past infections include fungal infections, pneumonia, or tuberculosis. Your doctor will need to treat these old infections if this happens. It is important that you continue to take your Zerit while you’re being treated for these conditions.
  • lactic acidosis and liver enlargement. Lactic acidosis is a change in the body’s chemical balance. This is a serious condition in which lactic acid builds up in the blood. Medications like Zerit can cause your body to make too much lactic acid. They can also make it harder for your liver to break down lactic acid. There is also a risk of liver toxicity when taking Zerit. May cause liver enlargement (hepatomegaly) with fatty liver (hepatic steatosis). If you already have liver disease, including hepatitis, you are at higher risk. Symptoms of these conditions include nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, unexplained weight loss, and weakness. See a doctor right away if you experience these symptoms and have swelling or enlargement of your abdomen area. The risk is higher in pregnant women, especially if they are taking Zerit with didanosine. These conditions may be harder to detect if you are pregnant because vomiting could be due to morning sickness.
  • swelling and inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis). This is a rare side effect that occurs in people taking Zerit and didanosine. If you’ve had pancreatitis before, you may be at greater risk. Signs of pancreatitis may include:

    • stomach bloating
    • pain
    • fever
    • nausea
    • vomiting
    • tenderness when touching the stomach
  • tingling, numbness of the hands and feet, or other neurologic symptoms, including weakness or partial paralysis. See your doctor right away if you have these symptoms. Some of these symptoms can linger if you don’t stop the drug immediately. Your risk is higher if you have advanced human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or if you’re also taking didanosine or other drugs that can cause this side effect.

Pharmacist's Advice
Healthline Pharmacist Editorial Team

Zerit 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 4

stavudine May Interact with Other Medications

Oral capsule

Zerit 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.

Medications That Might Interact with This Drug

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) drugs
  • didanosine, especially in combination with other antiretroviral drugs. Taking Zerit and didanosine at the same time increases your risk of pancreatitis.  Pregnant women have higher risk of lactic acidosis or liver toxicity when taking Zerit, didanosine and other drugs together. Zerit should not be taken together with didanosine and hydroxyurea. Fatal liver disease has occurred in patients who take this combination of drugs.
  • zidovudine  (Retrovir). Zidovudine prevents Zerit from working correctly.  Do not take zidovudine while taking Zerit.

Drugs for hepatitis
  • ribavirin (Ribasphere, Copergus)
  • interferons

These drugs may interact with Zerit to put you at higher risk for side effects. These side effects include liver problems, lactic acidosis, and nerve damage.  Ask your doctor if you may still be able to take them together.

Chemotherapy (cancer drug)
  • doxorubicin (Adriamycin)

Doxorubicin may prevent Zerit from working correctly. Ask your doctor if you may still be able to take them together. 

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 kidney disease

Kidney disease may cause your kidneys to work more slowly. Zerit is processed by your kidneys. The drug level could go up and increase your risk of side effects.

If you have kidney disease, you may need a different dose or dose schedule. Tell your doctor about your kidney disease before you take Zerit.

Pregnant women

Zerit is a category C pregnancy drug. That means two things:

  1. Research in animals has shown adverse effects to the fetus when the mother takes the drug.
  2. There haven’t been enough studies done in humans to be certain how the drug might affect the fetus.

Zerit should only be used during pregnancy if the potential benefit justifies the potential risk.

Severe cases of lactic acidosis have been reported in pregnant women who have taken both Zerit and didanosine with other antiretroviral drugs. Some cases have been fatal. Lactic acidosis is a serious condition in which lactic acid builds up in your blood. Medications like Zerit can cause your body to make too much lactic acid. They can also make it harder for your liver to break down lactic acid. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, unintentional weight loss, and weakness. Some of these symptoms are similar to the changes that happen to you during pregnancy. Your doctor can help you determine if what you’re feeling is normal or a side effect from the medication.

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 infection to your baby.  Additionally, animal studies show that Zerit passes through breast milk.

For Seniors

Seniors with advanced human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection are at greater risk of nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy) when taking Zerit. Symptoms include tingling in the fingers and toes or weakness in your arms and legs.

Seniors may have reduced kidney function. Their kidneys may work more slowly, causing the drug to build up in their bodies. This increases the risk of side effects like neuropathy.

If you’re a senior or have advanced HIV, your doctor may monitor your kidney function more often while you take this drug.

For Children

Children may be curious how the liquid form of this drug tastes. If you have the oral solution in your home, keep it away from 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 or that you have an infection. Contact your doctor, who will do tests to see if you need a different treatment.

Allergies

Many people experience a rash when taking Zerit. See a doctor right away if you experience a rash that appears suddenly or have the following symptoms with your rash:

  • hives
  • itching
  • swelling of your throat or face
  • wheezing
SECTION 4 of 4

How to Take stavudine (Dosage)

Oral capsule

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: Zerit

Form: Oral capsule
Strengths: 15 mg, 20 mg, 30 mg, 40 mg
Form: Powder for oral solution
Strengths: 1 mg/mL following constitution
Adult Dosage (ages 18-64 years)

30 mg or 40 mg, taken twice per day, twelve hours apart. Your doctor will determine the correct dose based on your body weight.

Child Dosage (ages 0-17 years)

The exact dosage is based on body weight and age. For children who weigh less than 66 lb (30 kg), the dose may be 0.5 mg/kg or 1 mg/kg, taken twice per day, twelve hours apart. For children who weigh at least 66 lb (30 kg) , the dosage is 30 mg or 40 mg, taken twice per day, twelve hours apart. Your child’s doctor will determine the correct dose based on your body weight.

Senior Dosage (ages 65 years and older)

Seniors may require a lowered dose or a longer period between doses because of reduced kidney function. Their kidneys may work more slowly, causing the drug to build up in their bodies. This increases the risk of side effects like neuropathy.

People who can’t swallow capsules may take the oral solution. The solution should be shaken before measuring each dose. Any unused solution should be thrown away if it isn’t used within 30 days.

Special Considerations

Kidney Disease: If you have kidney disease, your kidneys may filter out drugs more slowly, and taking Zerit at a regular dose may cause the drug to build up in your body. A buildup of the drug increases your risk of nerve damage. Your doctor may check your kidney function to decide if you need a lowered dose.

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 close to the time for your next dose, wait to take the dose as scheduled. Never double up on doses. That could increase your risk of side effects or toxicity.

How Can I Tell if the Drug is Working?

To see how well the drug is working, your doctor will take a small sample of your blood to check your:

  • virus count, also known as a viral load. A virus count measures the number of copies of HIV 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 fight infection. An increased CD4 cell count is a sign that your HIV treatment is working.

Zerit is a long-term drug treatment.

Take Zerit according to your doctor’s directions

If you take it twice per day, it should be taken every 12 hours.

Do not cut or crush the oral capsules

If you have trouble swallowing capsules, ask your doctor or pharmacist about the oral solution (liquid).

Store the oral capsules in a tightly closed bottle

Store them at 77°F (25°C). You can store the capsules briefly in temperatures as low as 59°F (15°C) and as high as 86°F (30°C).

Keep the oral solution tightly closed and away from excessive moisture. Store the solution in the refrigerator in temperatures from 36–46°F (2–8°C). Throw away any unused solution after 30 days.

Travel

When travelling by airplane, be sure to always pack your oral solution in your carry-on in the original packaging from the pharmacy so that it can be easily identified by transportation security officials.

Clinical Monitoring

Your doctor may check your liver and kidney function before you start taking Zerit.

Before and during treatment, your doctor may check your:

  • virus count, also known as a viral load. A virus count measures the number of copies of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in your blood. A decreased count is 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 fight infection. An increased CD4 count is a sign that your treatment is working.
  • Your doctor may check you for nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy). Symptoms include tingling in your fingers and toes or weakness in your arms or legs.

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.

What does the pill look like?

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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.


Show Sources

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 24, 2015

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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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