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Other Names: FTC, Emtriva®
What is it?
Emtricitabine is an antiretroviral drug used to treat HIV, a retrovirus. Retroviruses use the genetic material in the body’s cells to produce more virus which can infect other cells. Because emtricitabine may also decrease the amount of Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) found in the bloodstream, it may also be studied as a treatment to prevent liver damage that is caused by HBV.
How does it work?
Emtricitabine interferes with the life cycles of HIV and HBV to stop them from producing more virus. Specifically, emtricitabine ties up the DNA polymerase enzyme so that HIV and HBV cannot build the genetic material needed to make more virus and infect more cells.
For the treatment of HIV, a specific DNA polymerase enzyme called reverse transcriptase is blocked. Because of this, emtricitabine is commonly called a nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NRTI). When treating HIV, this medication is used in combination with other antiretroviral drugs to inhibit HIV reproduction.
How do I take it?
It is extremely important that you take emtricitabine and any other antiviral medications exactly as directed. You should set up a system that will help you remember to take your medicines so that you do not miss any doses. If you miss a dose, take it as soon as possible; however, if you skip a dose, do not take two doses at once. Do not stop taking the medication for any reason at any time unless you are directed to do so by your study clinician. If you are unable to continue taking your medication due to side effects, you should contact your provider immediately.
Some drugs taken together may have interactions that cause illness or impair the effectiveness of the drugs. Because emtricitabine is a new medication, studies are being done to determine what interactions there might be with other medications. It is a good idea to always check with your study clinician before taking any other medications, prescription or otherwise, to be sure it will not interact with emtricitabine
Not everyone experiences side effects. When they do occur, they may be mild, moderate or severe. Some side effects cannot be felt by the patient but can be found through laboratory tests, so it is important to see your provider regularly for checkups so that adverse effects can be detected early and treated.
The most common side effects of emtricitabine are headache, asthenia (weakness or lack of energy), nausea, diarrhea, rhinitis (inflammation in the nose), cough and rash. Other side effects that have been reported when emtricitabine is used in combination with other antiretrovirals include changes in liver function, changes in pancreas function, and neutropenia (low white blood cell count). Symptoms of neutropenia that you may notice include any sign of infection. If you begin to have these symptoms, please contact your provider.
Hyperpigmentation (dark coloring) of the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet has been reported in study subjects who received emtricitabine.
Emtricitabine is being studied as a possible treatment for Hepatitis B virus (HBV). Patients infected with both HIV and HBV may experience a worsening of HBV symptoms if emtricitabine therapy is stopped. Please consult your provider if you have HBV and are planning to start or stop emtricitabine treatment for HIV infection
Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors such as emtricitabine have been associated with a condition called lactic acidosis. Lactic acidosis is a build-up of lactic acid, a by-product of muscle metabolism, in the blood. Early symptoms can be vague and non-specific and can include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, abdominal pain, sudden unexplained weight, and shortness of breath. If you are experiencing these symptoms and they cannot be explained by other causes, please contact your provider immediately. Although lactic acidosis is a rare condition, it can be life-threatening if not treated immediately.
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