What is ZDV?

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  • Written By: Maggie J. Hall
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2019
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ZDV is the abbreviation for the generic, or international nonproprietary name (INN), of the antiretroviral medication, zidovudine. When transformed into a metabolite, zidovudine, formerly referred to as azidothymidine (AZT), inhibits viral cell replication. The medication is also somewhat effective against the Epstein-Barr and hepatitis B viruses, but physicians most frequently use the drug for pediatric and pregnant adult patients suffering from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). ZDV also exhibits some antibacterial characteristics against certain gram-negative organisms, including some strains of E. coli, Enterobacter, and Salmonella. The medication often causes serious adverse reactions when taken with other antiviral medications.

Human retroviruses are organisms that reproduce when an enzyme known as a reverse transcriptase transcribes ribonucleic acid (RNA) into deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). ZDV permeates the cell and, using an intracellular enzyme, transforms into a metabolite that inhibits this transcription process. Zidovudine undergoes transformation in both healthy and infected cells. Health care providers often prescribe ZDV along with other antiretroviral medications for effective treatment of HIV.

When prescribed with other antiviral medications, physicians believe that ZDV extends the life of affected persons in many ways. The treatment regimen generally reduces the levels of HIV-related RNA in the blood and usually prevents HIV from developing into acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). The action of the antiviral drugs also produces an elevation in the number of thymine (T)-helper cells.


Zidovudine also prevents bacterial replication under certain conditions. The bacterial cells must contain the thymidine kinase enzyme and must have a cell wall that is permeable to the drug. ZDV’s antibacterial and antiviral properties provide a two-fold benefit for HIV patients because those infected with the virus frequently develop complications from secondary bacterial or opportunistic infections.

Physicians can prescribe the antiretroviral medication ZDV in a capsule, tablet, or intravenous formulation. Common side effects of the drug include headache, gastrointestinal discomfort, and anorexia. Some patients experience skin rashes or bone and muscle aches, and anemias may result from a decreased number of red or white blood cells and platelets.

The drug also frequently causes liver malfunction, resulting in organ swelling, general fatigue, and other associated symptoms. The risk of adverse effects increases when patients take more than one antiviral medication simultaneously and may also increase when patients do not receive appropriate treatment until the disorder is in an advanced stage.


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