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AIDSinfo Drug Database

AIDSinfo Drug Database

Drugs by class



Clarithromycin  Audio icon

Other Names: Biaxin, Biaxin Extended Release, Biaxin XL, clarithromycin extended release
Drug Class: Opportunistic Infections and Coinfections
Chemical Image:
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Molecular Weight: 747.9571

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 (MAC) disease, another bacterial infection.

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 the Prevention and Treatment of Opportunistic Infections in HIV-Infected Adults and Adolescents, prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the HIV Medicine Association of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA-HIVMA), includes recommendations on the HIV-related uses of clarithromycin to:

  • Prevent:
    • Disseminated MAC disease.
  • 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.)
The above list may not include all of the HIV-related uses of clarithromycin recommended in the Guidelines for the Prevention and Treatment of Opportunistic Infections in HIV-Infected Adults and Adolescents. 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, 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. 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 are infected with 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, 59°F to 86°F (15°C to 30°C), in a well-closed container.
  • Store clarithromycin 500-mg tablets at room temperature, 68°F to 77°F (20°C to 25°C), in a well-closed container.
  • Store extended-release tablets at room temperature, 68°F to 77°F (20°C to 25°C).
  • Store clarithromycin granules for oral suspension below 25ºC (77ºF) 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 below 25ºC (77ºF) 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): Granule, tablet, tablet (extended release).

Last Reviewed: February 16, 2015

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