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AIDS virusEmtriva belongs to a class of anti-HIV drugs called Nucleoside/Nucleotide Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NRTIs). For a description of the life-cycle of the AIDS virus, and the targets of each class of drugs, click here.

Emtriva is manufactured by Gilead Sciences. They have a web site that includes the full prescribing information:

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Emtriva (emtricitabine)

Pronunciation(s): em-TREE-va; em-trih-SIGH-ta-been

What is Emtriva?
  • Emtriva is an HIV medication. It is in a category of HIV medicines called nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs). Emtriva prevents HIV from entering the nucleus of healthy CD4 cells. This prevents the cells from producing new virus and decreases the amount of virus in the body.
  • Emtriva, manufactured by Gilead Sciences, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of HIV in 2003.
  • Emtriva is available in pharmacies as a single drug, which is always combined with other HIV drugs, or in the fixed-dose combination tablets Truvada (Viread and Emtriva). Atripla (Viread, Emtriva, and Sustiva [efavirenz]), and Stribild (Viread, Emriva, elvitegravir and cobicistat).
  • Emtriva is also active against the hepatitis B virus (HBV), the virus responsible for hepatitis B. Although it has not been approved by the FDA for the treatment of hepatitis B, some doctors prescribe it to treat both hepatitis B and HIV. See What is known about side effects? below for more important information regarding Emtriva and hepatitis B.
  • Gilead has established a patient assistance program (PAP) for people living with HIV who do not have private or public health insurance and are unable to afford Emtriva. To learn more about the PAP for Emtriva, call Gilead (800-226-2056). For those with private health insurance, Gilead has established a program to help cover up to $200 toward each monthly Emtriva co-payment. To learn more about this co-pay program, call 866-784-3431. 

What is already known about Emtriva?
  • For adults, the recommended Emtriva dose is one 200mg capsule once a day.
  • Emtriva is approved for HIV-positive children. The correct dose of Emtriva will depend on the child's weight. For infants between 0 and 3 months, the correct dose is 3 mg per kilogram (mg/kg)of body weight, given once a day using the liquid formulation of the drug. For children 3 months to 17 years of age, the liquid formulation dose is 6 mg/kg once a day. Emtriva pills can also be taken by children weighing more than 33 kg—one 200 mg capsule once a day. To learn about treatment options for children, click here.
  • The chemical structure of Emtriva looks very much like that of Epivir (lamivudine).
  • Emtriva won't likely be effective for people who have already taken and become resistant to Epivir. This is because one of the key changes, or mutations, in HIV's genetic structure that occurs as a result of Epivir therapy also causes resistance to Emtriva.
  • Studies have demonstrated that Emtriva is effective for the treatment of HIV when combined with other HIV drugs, usually with at least one other nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NRTI) and either a protease inhibitor or non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI). Emtriva should not be taken alone (as monotherapy) or with just one other HIV drug.
  • For HIV-positive adults beginning HIV drug therapy for the first time, Emtriva is listed as a "preferred" NRTI option—used in combination with Viread (tenofovir)—by the United States Department of Health and Human Services in its treatment guidelines. To learn more about these recommendations and options, click here.
  • Therapy with Emtriva can cause certain changes (mutations) in HIV's structure to occur. Some mutations will prevent Emtriva from working against HIV. The key mutation that causes resistance to Emtriva (the M184V mutation in HIV's reverse transcriptase gene) can cause the virus to be at least partially resistant to other NRTIs, and will likely prevent the NRTI Epivir from working at all against the virus. However, Emtriva resistance might make the virus even more sensitive to other NRTIs, most notably Retrovir (even if HIV has mutations in its structure that would normally cause it to be resistant to Retrovir) and Viread.
  • Emtriva also appears to be active against the hepatitis B virus (HBV), a virus that can cause liver damage in a small number of people infected by it. Clinical trials are examining the activity of Emtriva against HBV in both patients with and without HIV infection.

What about drug interactions?
  • Emtriva should not be taken at the same time as Stribild, Atripla, Truvada, Epivir or other combination tablets that contain Epivir (for example, Epzicom, Combivir, or Trizivir). This is because these medications contain the same or similar active ingredients as Emtriva.
  • No significant drug interactions have been identified. However, this does not mean that other interactions aren't possible. More research is needed to understand the possible interactions between Emtriva and other medications.

What is known about side effects?
  • The most common side effects caused by drug regimens containing Emtriva are headache, diarrhea and nausea. Other side effects include allergic reaction, dizziness, sleeping problems, abnormal dreams, vomiting, indigestion, stomach pain, pain, weakness and rash. Skin discoloration (small spots and freckles) may also happen with Emtriva.
  • Lactic acidosis, which can be fatal, and severe liver problems have been reported in people taking nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs). Contact your doctor immediately if you experience nausea, vomiting, or unusual or unexpected stomach discomfort; weakness and tiredness; shortness of breath; weakness in the arms and legs; yellowing of the skin or eyes; or pain in the lower stomach area.
  • If you have hepatitis B and HIV and plan to stop taking Emtriva, you need close medical follow-up and for several months and your doctor might want to frequently check your liver enzymes after stopping treatment. This is because Emtriva is also active against the hepatitis B virus (HBV). If Emtriva is stopped abruptly, it can cause liver disease to "flare" and damage the liver.
  • Other side effects may occur as a result of taking Emtriva. Be sure to discuss any and all side effects you experience while taking HIV medications with your healthcare provider.

Can pregnant women take Emtriva?
  • Emtriva is classified by the FDA as a pregnancy category B drug. Pregnancy category B means that animal studies have failed to demonstrate a risk to the fetus, but there are no adequate and well-controlled studies in pregnant women. HIV-positive women who become pregnant should discuss the benefits and possible side effects of HIV treatment to help protect their babies from HIV (see our lesson called Family Planning, Pregnancy & HIV).
  • It is not known whether Emtriva passes into breast milk and what effect they may have on a nursing baby. To prevent transmission of the virus to uninfected babies, it is recommended that HIV-positive mothers not breast-feed.

What should I tell my doctor before taking Emtriva?
  • Before taking this medication, tell your doctor if you have: kidney disease or liver disease (including hepatitis B).
  • Tell your doctors and pharmacists about all medicines you take. This includes prescription medications, over-the-counter products, or herbal/natural remedies.

Last Revised: January 30, 2013

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