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Abacavir (Ziagen®)


Brand names:


Often used for:

HIV-1 infection

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What is abacavir?

Abacavir is used along with other medicines to treat infection caused by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Abacavir is in a group of medicines called nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs). It works to slow down how soon symptoms appear and may help slow the damage caused by HIV. Abacavir does not cure HIV. 

This medicine may be given in the clinic, hospital, or at home. 

The care team may order a genetic test called HLA-B. The genetic test will tell the care team the possibility of developing an allergic reaction to the medicine. 

Your child’s care team will do blood tests to check your child’s response to these medicines. 


May be given as a tablet by mouth

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May be given as a liquid by mouth

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Possible side effects

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low blood counts
  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Fever
  • Stomach pain
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

If a rash develops during the first few weeks of taking this medicine and includes 2 of more side effects listed above, stop taking abacavir and contact the care team right away.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction may include rash, hives, itching, runny nose, fever, chills, headache, muscle ache, shortness of breath, coughing, tightness in the throat, dizziness, low blood pressure, pain in the chest, side, or back, swelling of the face or neck.

Not all patients who take abacavir will have these side effects. Common side effects are in bold, but there may be others. Report any symptoms or side effects to your care provider or pharmacist.  Find more information on side effects.

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Tips for patients and families

Be sure to discuss all questions and instructions with your care provider or pharmacist. 

  • Tell all of your child's health care providers that your child is taking this medicine. This includes your child's doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and dentists.
  • If your child stops taking this medicine for any reason, they should not restart it without talking to your care team.
  • Do not give your child other medicines that contain alcohol or allow your child to drink alcohol while they take this medicine.  
  • It is important that patients tell the care team if they are sexually active, pregnant, or breastfeeding.

Abacavir at home

  • This medicine can be taken with or without food. Take with food if stomach upset occurs. Taking the medicine with meals may lessen stomach problems.
  • Finish all doses of the medicine as instructed by your care provider or pharmacist. 
  • Tablets: Swallow tablets whole.  Do not crush, chew, or break unless directed by the pharmacist.
  • Liquid: Use the measuring device that comes with the medicine. Throw away syringes for liquid medicine after each use. Do not reuse.
  • In case of a missed dose, give the missed dose as soon as possible. If it is near the time for the next dose, skip the missed dose. Do not give 2 doses at the same time. 
  • Store at room temperature. 
  • Do not use the medicine past the expiration date.