In combination with certain interferon drugs, ribavirin is prescribed to treat chronic hepatitis C. It is always used with another drug. By itself, ribavirin is not effective against hepatitis C.
Extreme care should be taken to avoid pregnancy when a woman or her partner is taking ribavirin. The drug poses a significant risk of serious harm to developing infants, even at lower doses, and it can also cause abnormalities in a man's sperm. The doctor will want to see a negative pregnancy report immediately before starting ribavirin therapy; and pregnancy tests should be done every month during therapy and for six months after it stops. Use at least two forms of birth control during treatment and for six months afterwards.
Ribavirin is available in various forms, including tablets, capsules, and an oral solution. Make sure you drink plenty of water while taking ribavirin, especially when you first begin treatment.
Side effects cannot be anticipated. If any develop or change in intensity, tell your doctor immediately. Only your doctor can determine whether it is safe for you to continue taking ribavirin.
Do not take ribavirin if you:
Within two weeks of starting treatment with ribavirin, about one patient in 10 develops a severe form of anemia. Your doctor will order blood tests periodically to check for this condition. Severe anemia is a serious condition that can lead to a potentially fatal heart attack. Ribavirin should be used with caution if you have a heart condition. Your doctor will perform heart tests such as an ECG before you begin treatment and will monitor your heart closely while you are taking ribavirin. You may have to discontinue therapy if you develop heart-related problems or if your heart condition gets worse.
Treatment with ribavirin and interferon drugs can have other serious side effects, including depression and suicidal thoughts (especially in adolescents), blood disorders, pancreas and lung problems, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, and infections. If you develop symptoms of these conditions, your doctor may have to discontinue treatment with ribavirin.
The risk of side effects is greater for individuals with poor kidney function. If you have this problem, your doctor will monitor you closely and adjust your dosage if necessary. Since many older adults have impaired kidney, liver, and heart function, the dosage of ribavirin is often decreased for these individuals.
The safety and effectiveness of ribavirin treatment have not been established for individuals with organ transplants, uncontrolled liver disease, and hepatitis B or unstable HIV infection. Your doctor will have your liver function tested before you begin taking ribavirin.
If you are taking didanosine, treatment with ribavirin is not recommended. Serious and even fatal reactions have occurred.
If ribavirin is taken with certain other drugs, the effects of either could be increased, decreased, or altered. It is especially important to check with your doctor before combining ribavirin with HIV drugs known as nucleoside analogues, such as lamivudine and zidovudine.
Ribavirin may cause birth defects or death in the developing infant. Neither a woman nor her partner should take ribavirin while she is pregnant. Use two forms of contraception if either partner is taking ribavirin. Continue using two forms of contraception for 6 months after treatment is finished. If pregnancy occurs during ribavirin therapy or within 6 months afterwards, contact your doctor immediately.
It is not known whether ribavirin appears in breast milk. Because of the potential for serious adverse effects on the nursing infant, you should not breastfeed your baby while taking ribavirin.
Your doctor will determine the best dosage based on your condition, how much you weigh, and how your body responds to the drug. Your dosage will be lowered if you develop anemia while taking ribavirin.
No adverse effects of ribavirin overdose have been reported. Nevertheless, any medication taken in excess may have serious consequences. If you suspect an overdose of ribavirin, seek medical attention immediately.