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.
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).
Interferons can cause or
aggravate mental problems. Tell your doctor if you have a history of
depression, suicidal thoughts,
anxiety, drug or alcohol abuse, or mental
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.
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
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:
or other emergency services right away if you have:
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.)
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.
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.
Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.
Lok SFL, McMahon BJ (2009). Chronic Hepatitis B: Update 2009. Available online: http://www.aasld.org/practiceguidelines/Documents/Bookmarked%20Practice%20Guidelines/Chronic_Hep_B_Update_2009%208_24_2009.pdf.
Janssen, H (2005). Pegylated interferon alfa-2b alone
or in combination with lamivudine for HBeAg-positive chronic hepatitis B: A
randomised trial. Lancet, 365(9454):
Lau GKK, et al. (2005). Peginterferon alfa-2a,
lamivudine, and the combination for HBeAG-positive chronic hepatitis B.
New England Journal of Medicine, 352(26): 2682–2695.
Dienstag JL (2010). Chronic viral hepatitis. In GL
Mandell et al., eds., Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, 7th ed., vol. 1, pp.
1593–1670. Philadelphia: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.
October 29, 2012
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
& W. Thomas London, MD - Hepatology
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