What is Atovaquone?

D. Jeffress

Atovaquone is a prescription drug most commonly used to treat pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP) and other fungal and parasitic infections in HIV-positive patients. It is also used in combination with another drug called proguanil to prevent or treat malaria. Atovaquone works by stopping the growth and spread of infectious microorganisms in the body. When it is used daily as prescribed by a doctor, the drug usually cures infection within three weeks. Patients may experience side effects such as nausea and vomiting when taking atovaquone, but most reactions are mild and go away after the body adjusts to the medication in the first few days of treatment.

Doctor taking notes
Doctor taking notes

PCP rarely affects healthy individuals, but HIV patients are susceptible to the disease because of their weakened immune systems. Before considering atovaquone, doctors usually try a less-potent medication called trimethoprim sulfamethoxazole to combat symptoms of PCP. Patients who do not respond to initial treatments are given prescriptions for atovaquone and specific instructions on how to use the drug properly.

Most adult patients are instructed to take one 750 milligram dose of atovaquone twice daily at mealtimes. The drug may be supplied in a pre-measured liquid solution or as a powder to mix with water. Getting the proper ratio of water to medication is important, so a doctor or pharmacist usually provides an accurate measuring device when the drug is prescribed. Patients are encouraged to take their medications for 21 straight days, even if they start feeling better at some earlier point in treatment, to ensure all microorganisms have been killed.

Individuals who plan on traveling to malaria-prone regions may be given atovaquone and proguanil as prophylactic therapy. In the case of an active malaria infection, the combination of drugs can usually cure symptoms with a one- to three-week course of treatment. It is important for patients to explain medical histories and current drug use to their doctors before taking malaria medications to make sure they will be safe and effective.

The most common side effects with atovaquone include nausea, stomach upset, vomiting, and diarrhea. The drug may also cause dizzy spells, headaches, anxiety, and sleep disturbances. Most people adjust to the medication in about one week and stop experiencing negative side effects. It is important to seek medical attention right away if a person develops skin hives, breathing difficulties, chest tightness, or other signs of an allergic reaction.

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