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Hepatitis C: Adverse effects of Interferon

Conventionally, the Interferon forms the first-line drug in various viral infections like Hepatitis C, AIDS-related Kaposi’s sarcoma, warts as well as various parasitic infections and some variety of tumors.

Technically, the interferon is an antibiotic formed in lower organisms in response to viral infections. It belongs to the class of glycoproteins. It is of three types: alpha, beta, and gamma; each having a different action. It mainly acts by inhibiting the replication of the virus.

Interferon is usually administered by intramuscular injection. The injection of interferon in the muscle, in the vein, or under the skin is generally well tolerated.

Some of the common adverse effects of interferon can be described as under:

Side effects associated with interferon, vary from person to person and are usually worst during the first few weeks of therapy.

Local effect:

Tissue damage at the site of injection occurs with all of the interferons but more commonly with interferon-beta-1b and pegylated interferon alfa-2b.

Respiratory system:

Flu-like symptoms typically include a low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle and joint aches, fatigue, and weakness. These side effects may occur throughout treatment but tend to be most pronounced during the first month of treatment and to diminish as treatment progresses.

Sleep: Causes or contributes to insomnia


Increases sensitivity to the sun called photosensitivity. So, the application of sunscreen to exposed areas and wearing a hat is recommended for patients receiving interferon therapy.

Psychiatric symptoms:

It may cause or worsen underlying anxiety and depression. Interferon therapy can also cause irritability, confusion, emotional instability, insomnia and a lack of concentration. All alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine should be eliminated, as these substances may exacerbate anxiety and depression.

Depression and suicide have been reported amongst the patients receiving interferon. Therefore, all patients receiving treatment with interferon should be observed for the development of depression and suicidal thoughts.

Thyroid gland:

Interferon may also cause thyroid abnormalities, symptoms of which may mimic psychiatric disorders. Individuals on interferon must have their thyroid profile periodically be checked via blood tests.

Other side effects:

Caused by higher doses are fatigue, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, joint aches, back pain and dizziness, anorexia, congestion, increased heart rate, confusion, low white blood cell count, low platelet count, low red blood cell count, an increase in liver enzymes, an increase in triglycerides, temporary skin rashes, mild hair loss or hair thinning, swelling (edema), cough or difficulty breathing.

Hair loss:

Little hair loss may be experienced. However, the hair loss is not as severe as what the chemotherapy for cancer produces.

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