An Overview of Clarithromycin (Biaxin)

Other Names: Biaxin, Biaxin Extended Release, Biaxin XL, clarithromycin extended release
Drug Class: Opportunistic Infections and Coinfections

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 -- that are caused by specific types of bacteria. Clarithromycin is also FDA-approved to prevent and treat Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC) disease, another bacterial infection.

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

To learn more about OIs, read the AIDSinfo What Is an Opportunistic Infection? fact sheet.

How Is Clarithromycin Used in People With HIV?

The _Guidelines for the Prevention and Treatment of Opportunistic Infections in HIV-Infected Adults and Adolescents_include recommendations on the HIV-related uses of clarithromycin.

Using a medicine as indicated on the medicine label is called on-label use; using the medicine in a different way is called off-label use. Off-label use, for example, can include using a drug for a different disease or medical condition. Good medical practice and the best interests of a patient sometimes require that a medicine be used off-label.

The guidelines include recommendations on the following uses of clarithromycin:

On-label uses:

  • Treat disseminated MAC disease and certain bacterial respiratory diseases (such as pneumonia).
  • Prevent disseminated MAC disease.

Off-label use:

  • Treat certain Bartonella infections (also called bartonellis), such as infections of the bloodstream (bacteremia) and bone (osteomyelitis).

The above list may not include all of the HIV-related uses of clarithromycin recommended in the guidelines. Some recommended uses, such as uses in certain rare circumstances, may have been omitted.

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.
  • About anything that could affect your ability to take medicines, such as difficulty swallowing or remembering to take tablets.
  • If you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. Clarithromycin should not be used during pregnancy except when there are no other alternative treatments. Talk to your health care provider about possible risks with taking clarithromycin when pregnant.
  • If you are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed. Do not breastfeed if you have HIV.
  • About other prescription and nonprescription medicines, vitamins, nutritional supplements, and herbal products you are taking or plan to take. Clarithromycin may affect the way other medicines or products work, and other medicines or products may affect how clarithromycin works. 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, 68°F to 77°F (20°C to 25°C), in a well-closed container. Protect the tablets 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. Protect the tablets 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 below 77ºF (25ºC) in a well-closed container. (An oral suspension is a mixture of a medicine and a liquid that can be taken by mouth.) After mixing clarithromycin granules with water, do not refrigerate the oral suspension. Store the oral suspension in a tightly closed bottle between 59ºF to 86ºF (15ºC to 30ºC) and use within 14 days.
  • Do not use clarithromycin if the original seal over the bottle opening is broken or missing.
  • Throw away clarithromycin that is no longer needed or expired (out of date). Follow FDA guidelines on how to safely dispose of unused medicine.
  • Keep clarithromycin and all medicines out of reach of children.

Where Can I Find More Information About Clarithromycin?

More information about clarithromycin is available:

The above Patient Version drug summary is based on the following FDA label(s): Tablet; Suspension; Tablet (film-coated, extended release).

[Note from TheBody: This article was created by AIDSinfo, who last updated it on July 18, 2018. We have cross-posted it with their permission.]