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An Overview of Clarithromycin (Biaxin)

October 5, 2012


Other Names: Biaxin, Biaxin Extended Release, Biaxin XL, clarithromycin extended release

What is clarithromycin?

Clarithromycin is an antibiotic prescription medicine approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat certain bacterial infections -- including pneumonia, pharyngitis (infection of the throat), acute sinus infections, and others -- caused by specific types of bacteria. Clarithromycin is also FDA-approved to prevent and treat Mycobacterium avium (MAC) disease.

Disseminated MAC disease and certain bacterial respiratory diseases (such as pneumonia) are opportunistic infections. An opportunistic infection is an infection that occurs more frequently or is more severe in people with weakened immune systems -- such as those infected with HIV -- than in people with healthy immune systems.

Clarithromycin can also be used "off-label" to treat other opportunistic infections of HIV infection. "Off-label" use refers to use of an FDA-approved medicine in a manner different from that described on the medicine label. Good medical practice and the best interests of a patient sometimes require that a medicine be used "off-label."

What HIV-related opportunistic infections is clarithromycin used for?

The Guidelines for Prevention and Treatment of Opportunistic Infections in HIV-Infected Adults and Adolescents, prepared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), includes recommendations on the HIV-related uses of clarithromycin to:

  • Prevent:

    • Disseminated MAC disease from occurring the first time (called primary prophylaxis) and from recurring (called secondary prophylaxis or maintenance therapy).
  • Treat:

    • Disseminated MAC disease.
    • Certain bacterial respiratory diseases (such as pneumonia).
    • Certain Bartonella infections (also called bartonellis), such as infections of the bloodstream (bacteremia) and bone (osteomyelitis). (This is an "off-label" use.)

What should I tell my health care provider before taking clarithromycin?

Before taking clarithromycin, tell your health care provider:

  • If you are allergic to clarithromycin or any other medicines.
  • About any medical conditions you have or have had, for example, diabetes or liver problems.
  • About anything that could affect your ability to take medicines, such as difficulty swallowing or remembering to take pills.
  • If you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. Whether clarithromycin can harm an unborn baby is unknown. Clarithromycin should not be used during pregnancy except when there are no other alternative treatments.
  • If you are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed. Do not breastfeed if you are infected with HIV.
  • About other prescription and nonprescription medicines, vitamins, nutritional supplements, and herbal products you are taking or plan to take. Ask your health care provider if there are interactions between clarithromycin and the other medicines you take.

Ask your health care provider about possible side effects from clarithromycin. Your health care provider will tell you what to do if you have side effects.

How should I take clarithromycin?

Take clarithromycin according to your health care provider's instructions. Your health care provider will tell you how much clarithromycin to take and when to take it. Before you start clarithromycin and each time you get a refill, read any printed information that comes with your medicine.

How should clarithromycin be stored?

  • Store clarithromycin 250-mg tablets at room temperature, 59°F to 86°F (15°C to 30°C), in a well-closed container and protect from light.
  • Store clarithromycin 500-mg tablets at room temperature, 68°F to 77°F (20°C to 25°C), in a well-closed container and protect from light.
  • Store extended-release tablets at room temperature, 68°F to 77°F (20°C to 25°C).
  • Store clarithromycin granules for oral suspension at room temperature, 59°F to 86°F (15°C to 30°C). Do not refrigerate the oral suspension.
  • Safely throw away clarithromycin that is no longer needed or expired (out of date).
  • Keep clarithromycin and all medicines out of reach of children.

Where can I find more information about clarithromycin?

More information about clarithromycin is available:

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This article was provided by AIDSinfo. Visit the AIDSinfo website to find out more about their activities and publications.
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