Ribavirin is an anti-viral drug that is used for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C, a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). It acts by preventing the multiplication of HCV inside the body. To be effective in treating hepatitis, it is often given together with another drug, interferon alfa. Interferon alfa is also prescribed for patients with leukemia, chronic hepatitis B, and melanoma. In infants and younger children suffering from severe viral pneumonia, ribavirin may also be given.
Individuals with hepatitis C generally take ribavirin orally. Oral intake may be in the form of capsule, tablet, or oral solution. Interferon alfa is usually given through injection. When it is part of treatment of pneumonia in children, it is usually given through inhalation with the use of a nebulizer connected to a face mask.
For the infection to be totally controlled, these medications should be taken according to a doctor's instructions during the whole treatment period, which is about 24 to 48 weeks. It is often recommended to finish taking the medications as prescribed, even if the patient starts to feel better after only a few weeks of treatment. If side effects develop, it is often best to inform the physician immediately.
Common side effects seen in patients using ribavirin and interferon alfa include depression, irritability, joint pain, stomach upset, and loss of appetite. Some patients may also experience chills, hair loss, sleeping difficulty, and itchiness. After a couple of weeks of taking the drug, a few patients may develop anemia, which is the decrease in the number of red blood cells. Nuetropenia, a decrease in the number of white blood cells, may also occur. This in turn increases the patient's risk of contracting bacterial infections.
Before giving these kinds of medications, physicians frequently make sure that the patient is not pregnant. Ribavirin is also not given to a man if his wife is pregnant. Men, while on therapy, are also advised not to get their wives pregnant. This is because ribavirin is known to cause birth defects, and may even lead to death of the unborn baby. Certain measures are often employed to prevent pregnancy while on these medications.
It is often important for patients to inform their physicians of other medical conditions they have, and if they are taking other drugs. Examples of drugs not to be taken with ribavirin are zidovudine and stavudine, both of which are antiretroviral drugs. Ribavirin may also worsen conditions such as heart disease, depression, anemia, liver problems, and kidney disorder.