Background and Aim: Current practice guidelines recommend that individuals chronically infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) be treated with pegylated interferon plus ribavirin. Ribavirin, however, is associated with serious adverse events (AE), especially anemia. We review its mechanism of action, its importance in treating chronic hepatitis C (CHC) patients, the AE associated with its use, and techniques used to lessen these AE.
Methods: Medline searches were performed using the keywords ribavirin and hepatitis, together with the keywords mechanism, anemia, liver transplant, renal function, pharmacokinetics, and dose reduction. Searches of abstracts of recent Digestive Diseases Week, American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, and European Association for the Study of Liver Diseases meetings were also performed.
Results: Ribavirin may be effective in treating CHC by affecting the virus or the host; for example by inducing viral mutations, blocking cellular enzymes, or affecting the host immune response. Although the pegylated interferons are the primary drugs used to treat CHC, a combination with ribavirin is more effective than pegylated interferon alone. Ribavirin-associated AE may be lessened by ribavirin dose reductions and by maintenance of the hematocrit.
Conclusions: Treatments of ribavirin toxicities, especially anemia, can allow patients to continue full-dose combination therapy with peginterferon and ribavirin, enhancing their probability of attaining a sustained virologic response (SVR). Treatment of CHC should be tailored to individual patients, especially those with renal dysfunction, and should include agents that treat the side-effects of CHC treatment. Monitoring of plasma ribavirin concentrations during treatment may help in the future.