Foscarnet sodium (Foscavir)

Foscarnet sodium (Foscavir) is an antiviral drug that is active against viruses such as cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr virus, herpes viruses, varicella zoster virus and HIV. It works by inhibiting the DNA polymerases and reverse transcriptase. It is sometimes referred to as trisodium phosphonoformate or PFA.

Comparative studies have shown that foscarnet is as effective as ganciclovir (Cymevene) in treating cytomegalovirus retinitis, and is active against ganciclovir-resistant strains of cytomegalovirus.

Foscarnet is also as a treatment for aciclovir (Zovirax)-resistant herpes simplex and varicella zoster infections. It is also active against HIV.1 2 3 However, it is impractical for long-term use as an anti-HIV agent because it has to be given by intravenous infusion and causes substantial side-effects. Nevertheless, it may be an option for salvage therapy in patients with no other treatment options.4 Foscarnet can also be used to treat or prevent Kaposi’s sarcoma.5

The commonest side-effects of foscarnet are kidney toxicity, changes in the levels of minerals in the blood and anaemia. Other side-effects include neutropenia (low levels of neutrophils, a type of white blood cell), central nervous system toxicity such as neuropathy, muscle twitching and irregular heartbeat, diabetes, ulcers on the tip of the penis (especially in uncircumcised men), nausea, fever and rash. Treatment may cause a decline in the levels of calcium in the blood, which may in turn cause neurological and heart problems.

Patients receiving foscarnet who experience burning or tingling sensations or mouth numbness should tell a doctor immediately.

Patients need to drink plenty of water before or during infusion and for a saline infusion to be given at the same time as the drug, to reduce the risk of kidney damage. In men, careful washing of the penis after urination helps to minimise the risk of penile ulcers.

Foscarnet should not be taken at the same time as intravenous pentamidine (Pentacarinat) because of an increased risk of kidney damage. Caution is required when taking foscarnet with other drugs that may harm the kidneys, such as tenofovir (Viread) and amphotericin B (Fungilin / Fungizone / Abelcet / AmBisome / Amphocil). GlaxoSmithKline advises that 3TC (lamivudine, Epivir) should not be taken at the same time as foscarnet. It does not interact with any currently available protease inhibitors or non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs).


  1. Devianne-Garrigue I et al. Foscarnet decreases HIV-1 plasma load. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr Hum Retrovirol 18: 46-50, 1998
  2. Kaiser L et al. Foscarnet decreases human immunodeficiency virus RNA. J Infect Dis 172: 225-227, 1995
  3. Bergdahl S et al. Pronounced anti-HIV-1 activity of foscarnet in patients without cytomegalovirus infection. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr Hum Retrovirol 18: 51-58, 1998
  4. Mathiesen S et al. Foscarnet used in salvage therapy of HIV-1 patients harbouring multiple nucleotide excision mutations. AIDS 18: 1076-1078, 2004
  5. Morfeldt L et al. Long-term remission of Kaposi's sarcoma following foscarnet treatment in HIV-infected patients. Scand J Infect Dis 26: 749-752, 1994

Community Consensus Statement on Access to HIV Treatment and its Use for Prevention

Together, we can make it happen

We can end HIV soon if people have equal access to HIV drugs as treatment and as PrEP, and have free choice over whether to take them.

Launched today, the Community Consensus Statement is a basic set of principles aimed at making sure that happens.

The Community Consensus Statement is a joint initiative of AVAC, EATG, MSMGF, GNP+, HIV i-Base, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, ITPC and NAM/aidsmap

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.

NAM’s information is intended to support, rather than replace, consultation with a healthcare professional. Talk to your doctor or another member of your healthcare team for advice tailored to your situation.