WASHINGTON (AP) _ Patients who take the AIDS drug Norvir will soon have to use a liquid version of the medicine temporarily because a manufacturing problem means drugstores are about to run out of capsules, Abbott Laboratories said Tuesday.

The liquid works identically to the capsules taken by tens of thousands of HIV patients, so patients won't be harmed, Abbott stressed.

But even Abbott acknowledged that liquid Norvir tastes very bad. Some patients call it vile. So the company is advising patients to mix the liquid drug into chocolate milk or the nutritional drinks Ensure or Advera to disguise the taste.

Norvir, known chemically as ritonavir, is a protease inhibitor, a powerful type of AIDS drug. Taking protease inhibitors together with several older AIDS drugs has dramatically improved HIV patients' health.

But these drug cocktails are customized, so patients cannot just substitute a competing protease inhibitor brand, and it's dangerous to skip doses. Thus, it is important for Abbott to have a liquid Norvir to substitute for the capsules.

Abbott this week is notifying doctors and pharmacists that for an unknown reason, newly made batches of Norvir capsules dissolve improperly. The Food and Drug Administration is working with Abbott to solve the problem.

The manufacturing problem did not affect Norvir already shipped to drugstores, Abbott said. But that supply will run out next month. So patients who need refills will temporarily get the liquid, at the same price. Doctors or pharmacists will convert each patient's capsule dose into the proper number of teaspoons.

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For more information, call 1-800-637-2400 or check on the Internet: http://www.norvir.com