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Current and Future Medications for Hepatitis C (cont.)

Interferons

The interferons include drugs such as peginterferon alfa-2a (Pegasys), peginterferon alfa-2b (Pegintron), recombinant interferon alfa-2a (Roferon), and recombinant interferon alfa-2b (Intron A).

How do interferons work? Interferons are virus-fighting proteins the body makes naturally in response to viral infections. Interferons also have other actions in the body and have been used to treat a variety of diseases, for example, leukemias, other types of cancers, and multiple sclerosis.

Who should not use these medications? Individuals with autoimmune hepatitis, decompensated liver disease, or allergy to interferons should not use these medications. Peginterferon cannot be used in newborns.

Dosage Forms and Administration: Peginterferon is given as an injection under the skin once per week. Recombinant interferon alfa-2a or alfa-2b is injected 3 times per week.

Drug or food interactions: Peginterferon may increase theophylline levels in the blood.

Side effects: Common side effects resemble flu symptoms and include fatigue, low blood cell counts (anemia), muscle aches, nausea and vomiting, mild fever, headache, and/or weight loss. Up to 20% of individuals experience depression. Interferon should be discontinued if a person's depression becomes severe and he or she does not respond to antidepressant therapy or dose decreases. Periodic eye examinations are recommended.

Medical and Pharmacy Editor:

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