Interferons for Chronic Hepatitis B
How It Works
Interferon is a man-made copy of a protein that your body makes in response to infection. It helps the immune system fight disease and may slow or stop the growth of the hepatitis B virus in your body.
Interferon is given as a shot 3 times a week. A slow release form of interferon, pegylated interferon (also known as peginterferon), is given as a shot once a week. Peginterferon is used more often than interferon to treat hepatitis B. Treatment with interferons can last 4 months to 1 year.
Why It Is Used
Interferons are used to treat long-term (chronic) HBV infection in adults and children who are at risk for liver disease. The American Association for the Study of Liver Disease has made recommendations on who should receive treatment for hepatitis B based on the presence of hepatitis B antigen in your blood, the level of hepatitis B virus DNA (HBV DNA) in your blood, and the level of the liver enzyme alanine aminotransferase (ALT).1
Treatment with interferons is not recommended if you are using illegal drugs or drinking too much alcohol. It is also not recommended if you have had an organ transplant or if you have advanced liver scarring (cirrhosis).
How Well It Works
It is important to weigh the benefits of treatment against the risks. Treatment for HBV infection is considered successful if blood tests show that the virus is no longer multiplying in the body, if liver enzyme levels return to normal, and if liver damage (such as inflammation and scarring) improves.
The success of interferon treatment for hepatitis B depends on how treatment success is defined. Relapse—when the virus starts to multiply again—is common after treatment is stopped. Interferons stop the growth of the virus over the long term in about 35% of people who use them.1 Recent studies suggest that peginterferon works a little better than interferon.2, 3
Interferons work best for people who have high levels of liver enzymes and in whom the virus is multiplying. They are also more likely to work in people who have a strong immune system, who have had hepatitis for a short amount of time, and who became infected after childhood.4
All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.
Here are some important things to think about:
Call your doctor if you have:
Common side effects of these medicines include:
See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)
What To Think About
Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.
There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.
Advice for women
If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
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