Interferon drugs limit viral infection or destroy cancerous cells.
- Interferon alfa
- Interferon beta
Interferons are a group of proteins produced naturally in the body in response to viral infections. Synthetic versions that mimic the action of these natural interferons are used as drugs to treat a number of disorders. There are two main types of synthetic interferon: interferon alfa and interferon beta. They each have a slightly different chemical structure and different medical uses.
Interferon alfa is used to treat people who have the persistent viral infections hepatitis B or C (see Antiviral drugs). It is also used in the treatment of certain types of cancer (see Anticancer drugs). Interferon beta reduces the frequency and severity of relapses in some people with multiple sclerosis, although it has not been shown to affect the eventual degree of disability caused by the disorder.
How do interferon drugs work?
Interferons bind to body cells, thereby activating the immune response. Their main effect is to increase the activity of white blood cells, which are important components of the body's immune system. Interferons are also able to slow down the multiplication of cancerous cells and to reduce or prevent the replication of certain viruses, such as the hepatitis virus, inside infected cells.
Interferons are given only by injection, and in most cases the drugs can be self-administered. Your doctor or nurse will teach you how to inject yourself.
What are the side effects of interferon drugs?
The most common side effect of interferon drugs is a flu-like syndrome, in which you may have a fever, muscular aches, and a headache. Other possible side effects are nausea, tiredness, and depression. Redness and swelling at the site of injection is common. Interferons may also cause liver and kidney problems. If you are taking an interferon drug, your doctor will arrange for regular tests to monitor changes in your body functions.
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