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AZT Therapy

January 1, 1981

AZT (also known as zidovudine or ZDV) is one of the medicines that work against HIV. AZT may slow down the virus and the effects it has on your body. Many people who have HIV feel better while taking AZT. Sometimes AZT causes problems such as upset stomach, anemia (low blood), headache, or muscle soreness. These problems usually go away when AZT is stopped or the dose is lowered.

Babies and AZT: the 076 Study

You may have heard about a research study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) called the 076 study. 076 is the number NIH gave to the study. The 076 study found that women with HIV who took AZT were much less likely to pass the virus to their babies.

The following are facts about the study:

  • More than 500 pregnant women with HIV took part in the study.

  • Half of the mothers and babies did not take AZT.


  • The other half of the women took AZT, and their babies were given AZT for 6 weeks after they were born.

  • Three of every 12 babies born to women who did not take AZT got HIV.

  • One of every 12 babies born to mothers who took AZT got HIV.

Facts about the Women in the Study

  • Began prenatal care early.

  • Had HIV and began the study between 14 weeks (3 1/2 months) and 34 weeks (8 1/2 months) of pregnancy.

  • Were 15 to 43 years old (average age 25).

  • Were African-American (about 50 percent of the women), Hispanic (about 33 percent), and white (about 17 percent).

  • Had not taken AZT for their own health before the study.

    Had T-cell counts over 200 at the start of the study. More than half had T-cell counts over 500.

Questions and Answers About the AZT Study

Q. How was AZT given to the women and babies in the study?

The women and babies in the 076 study took AZT in three stages:

    1. During pregnancy: The women took one AZT pill five times each day.
    2. During labor and delivery: The women were given AZT through an IV.
    3. Right after birth: The babies were given AZT syrup four times a day for 6 weeks.

Q. Did AZT cause problems for the women?

Taking AZT did not seem to make the women in this study any sicker than the women who did not take AZT. Studies are being done to see if the women have any long-term problems.

Q. Did AZT cause problems for their babies?

AZT did not cause any serious problems for the babies in the 076 study.

  • AZT did not cause birth defects or cause babies to be born early.

  • Babies born to women who did and did not take AZT were about the same size.

  • Some of the AZT babies became anemic. The anemia went away soon after AZT was stopped.

  • Babies born to women in both groups have been followed to at least one year of age. Growth and development are about the same for all babies.

  • Studies are being done to see if AZT causes any long-term problems for the babies.

Q. What do these results mean for me?

The results of the AZT study are very hopeful. But, we do not know if AZT will work the same for women and babies who are not like the women and babies in the study.

Q. Is there anything else I can do?

  • Do not breast feed your baby. HIV can pass to your baby through breast milk.

  • Your baby should be given a medicine when he or she is 4 to 6 weeks old to help prevent pneumonia.

Talking With your Health Care Provider

The following are some questions to ask your health care provider about using AZT:
  1. Could AZT help me and my baby?

  2. Will AZT make me or my baby sick?

  3. What if I am taking other medicines?

  4. What if I use drugs or alcohol?

  5. Will I need to keep taking AZT after I have my baby?

  6. When will I know if my baby has HIV?

  7. What if I need to take AZT later on for myself?

  8. How will I pay for my care?

Profiles: A Woman's Decision Whether to Take AZT Therapy

The following are anecdotes of real women living with HIV/AIDS who had to make a decision whether to take AZT therapy.


"...when I found out I was pregnant and infected with hiv, my OB/GYN doctor talked to me about taking AZT to lower the risk of infecting my baby with the virus. I asked my HIV counselor all the questions I could think of, then talked to my man about it. I decided to start taking AZT right away, and he supported my decision. We wanted our baby more than anything in the world. I didn't want my baby to be HIV-positive like me.

I took AZT while I was pregnant. I feel like I gave it my best shot. Taking AZT was the right decision for me because I wanted a chance to help my baby. You have to decide if AZT is right for you and your baby. Do what I did and talk about it with someone you trust. Ask questions and get the facts."


"...I thought long and hard about my options. After several days I finally made my decision not to take AZT. I felt it was the right choice for me at that time. I admit that later I thought about taking the AZT treatment. I even spoke with my HIV counselor who was very supportive. But, she could not tell me for sure that AZT would keep my baby from getting the virus. I wanted to know more about it. Back then, there just wasn't much information around on AZT and pregnant women.

These days, I'm a peer counselor and talk to pregnant women who are infected with HIV all the time. I tell them that AZT is a medicine that fights the HIV virus. It doesn't cure HIV, but it may protect a baby from getting the virus from the mother. The choices you have to make at this time in your life are difficult, and you need someone to support you. I know from experience."


"The people at the clinic where I was tested seemed to know a lot about pregnant women like me who are HIV-positive. They told me there was some new information about pregnant women who took a drug called AZT. They even encouraged my family to be very involved with my care.

We had a lot of meetings with people at the clinic to see if taking AZT would be right for me. With the help of my family, I decided to take AZT because it might help me have a healthy baby. I don't think I could have made it through my pregnancy without the help of my family and the people at the clinic. It'll be a while before we know if my baby is infected or not. I can't decide what's best for you...what I do know is that taking AZT was right for me."

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This article was provided by U.S. Health Care Financing Administration. It is a part of the publication Pregnancy and HIV -- What Women and Doctors Need to Know.