What Is Peginterferon Alfa-2a?

Jacquelyn Gilchrist

Peginterferon alfa-2a is prescribed for patients with chronic hepatitis B and chronic hepatitis C infections. These are viral infections that can cause liver swelling. It works by reducing the number of virus cells and assisting the immune system in fighting off the infection. This medication may be unable to cure hepatitis, nor can it prevent a patient from spreading the disease to others. Peginterferon alfa-2a may be used in conjunction with ribavirin, another hepatitis medication.

Loss of appetite and unintended weight loss are side effects of peginterferon alfa-2a.
Loss of appetite and unintended weight loss are side effects of peginterferon alfa-2a.

Patients will be provided with either vials of medication and syringes or prefilled syringes to inject subcutaneously, or under the skin. There is no oral form of the drug. It is typically injected once weekly, on the same day. Peginterferon alfa-2a should never be injected into skin that is irritated, abraded, or otherwise broken.

The syringes will be stored in the refrigerator. Patients should gently roll the vial or prefilled syringe in the palm of the hand for one minute to warm it. They must also wash their hands carefully before administering the injection. Peginterferon alfa-2a may be injected into the thighs or the stomach, with the exception of the waistline and belly button. The doctor will show the patient how to properly administer the injection.

Some side effects may occur while using peginterferon alfa-2a, which should be reported to the prescribing physician if they become severe. Patients may notice unintended weight loss, insomnia, and loss of appetite. Diarrhea, dry mouth, and redness or swelling at the injection site may also occur. Some patients have reported flu-like symptoms, such as stomach pain, fatigue, and joint pain. Flu-like symptoms may also include a fever, chills, and nausea, which may be alleviated by taking an over-the-counter fever reducer or pain reliever.

More severe side effects may also occur, which require immediate medical attention. Some patients have noticed severe mood changes, such as thoughts of suicide. The doctor may recommend that these patients discontinue the medication. It can also rarely cause chest pain, seizures, and one-sided weakness, along with vision changes.

Other serious side effects from peginterferon alfa-2a may include unusually severe fatigue, unusual bruising or bleeding, or persistent fever. Changes in the amount of urine, bloody diarrhea, or vomit with the appearance of coffee grounds have also been reported. Some patients have experienced a rapid or irregular heartbeat, dark urine, and jaundice.

Before using peginterferon alfa-2a for a hepatitis infection, patients must disclose their other medical conditions, medications, and supplements. It is strongly recommended that women avoid this medication if they are pregnant or breastfeeding. Peginterferon alfa-2a may be contraindicated for use by those who have an autoimmune disease, a history of cancer, or diabetes. This drug may interact with other medicines, including methadone, cyclobenzaprine, and naproxen.

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