What Is Zidovudine Used For?
Zidovudine works by blocking a process that the HIV virus needs in order to multiply. Like other viruses, HIV must use a person's own cells to reproduce. However, HIV is a little different from other viruses because it must first convert its genetic material from RNA to DNA. It is the DNA genes that allow HIV to multiply.
The virus converts its genetic material by using a special protein called the reverse transcriptase enzyme. To create DNA, this enzyme uses several different molecular building-blocks. Zidovudine works by tricking reverse transcriptase into thinking it is one of these molecular building-blocks. However, it is just different enough that when used to create DNA, zidovudine actually stops the DNA from being made. Without DNA, HIV cannot multiply.
Zidovudine is not a cure for HIV or AIDS. It can help stop HIV from infecting healthy cells in the body, but it does not help cells that have already been infected with the virus.
Zidovudine is approved to treat HIV or AIDS in children as young as three months old. It is also approved to be used in newborns of HIV-infected mothers to decrease the chances of HIV transmission.
On occasion, your healthcare provider may recommend zidovudine for treating something other than HIV infection and AIDS. This is called an "off-label" use. At this time, off-label zidovudine uses include treatment for the following conditions:
- T-cell lymphoma or leukemia
- Thrombocytopenia (low blood platelets) in people with HIV.
Zidovudine is also used in combination with other HIV medications to prevent infection in people exposed to the HIV virus (such as a healthcare worker who comes in contact with a contaminated needle stick). This is called postexposure prophylaxis (PEP).