What is Stevens-Johnson Syndrome and How is it Related to Zithromax?

Stevens-Johnson Syndrome is a severe reaction that affects the skin and mucous membranes. It causes a rash that spreads and blisters, ultimately causing the top layer of the skin to shed and die. When SJS affects more than 30 percent of the body, it is referred to as toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN). SJS can be caused by viral infections and cancer, but the most common cause is a medication. Many different drugs can trigger SJS, but this hypersensitivity reaction appears to be more common with anticonvulsants, antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and allopurinol (used to treat gout or kidney stones).

Zithromax (azithromycin), a popular antibiotic manufactured by Pfizer, is one of the drugs that may lead to SJS in some patients. Zithromax is used to treat bacterial infections such as pneumonia, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and infections of the ears, lungs, sinuses, skin, throat and reproductive organs. It fights infections by inhibiting the growth of bacteria. Being aware of a drug’s potential side effects can help patients and healthcare professionals make an informed treatment decision, as well as spot any health problems.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Zithromax in the early 1990s. It quickly became popular due to its short regimen of five to seven days. Many other antibiotics must be taken for ten days.

SJS is a rare side effect associated with Zithromax, but it is life-threatening. Additionally, it is helpful to be aware of SJS because the use of Zithromax is widespread in both adults and children. Early detection is vital, especially since the initial symptoms can often go unnoticed. For the first one to three days, patients may develop fever, sore mouth and throat, cough and a burning sensation in the eyes. Afterwards, a rash appears that spreads and blisters.

Blindness is a potential complication of SJS and TEN because it can cause inflammation and scarring in the ocular area. The damage can lead to vision loss in some patients.

In a 2012 warning letter, the FDA took issue with the way Pfizer described the risk of SJS with Zithromax. The warning label mentioned the risk of SJS, but the FDA said the warning failed to point out that the condition is life-threatening.

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