The Body: The Complete HIV/AIDS Resource
Follow Us Follow Us on Facebook Follow Us on Twitter Download Our App 
Professionals >> Visit The Body PROThe Body en Espanol
  • Email Email
  • Printable Single-Page Print-Friendly
  • Glossary Glossary

An Overview of Ganciclovir (Cytovene, Vitrasert)

November 14, 2012

Other Names: Cytovene IV, Vitrasert, ganciclovir implant, ganciclovir sodium

What is ganciclovir?

Ganciclovir is a prescription medicine approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of cytomegalovirus retinitis (a viral infection and inflammation of the eye's retina) in individuals with AIDS. Ganciclovir is also FDA-approved for the prevention of cytomegalovirus (CMV) disease in transplant recipients at risk for CMV diseases.

CMV diseases, including that affecting the eye (CMV retinitis), are opportunistic infections. An opportunistic infection is an infection that occurs more frequently or is more severe in people with weakened immune systems -- such as those infected with HIV -- than in people with healthy immune systems.

Ganciclovir can also be used "off-label" to prevent and treat other opportunistic infections of HIV infection. "Off-label" use refers to use of an FDA-approved medicine in a manner different from that described on the medicine label. Good medical practice and the best interests of a patient sometimes require that a medicine be used "off-label."

What HIV-related opportunistic infections is ganciclovir used for?

The Guidelines for Prevention and Treatment of Opportunistic Infections in HIV-Infected Adults and Adolescents, prepared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), includes recommendations on the HIV-related uses of ganciclovir to:

  • Prevent:

    • CMV retinitis from recurring (called secondary prophylaxis or maintenance therapy). (This is an "off-label" use.)
  • Treat:

    • CMV retinitis.
    • Other types of CMV disease, including CMV pneumonitis (infection and inflammation of the lungs) and CMV neurological disease (infection and disease of the nervous system). (This is an "off-label" use.)
    • A varicella zoster virus (VZV) disease called progressive outer retinal necrosis, which is an infection and necrotizing inflammation (causing tissue death) of the eye's retina. (This is an "off-label" use.)
    • Human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6) infection. (This is an "off-label" use.)
    • Certain human herpesvirus 8 (HHV-8) diseases, including multicentric Castleman's disease (a disease of the lymph nodes). (This is an "off-label" use.)

What should I tell my health care provider before taking ganciclovir?

Before taking ganciclovir, tell your health care provider:

  • If you are allergic to ganciclovir or any other medicines.
  • About any medical conditions you have or have had, for example, diabetes or liver problems.
  • About anything that could affect your ability to take medicines, such as difficulty swallowing or remembering to take pills.
  • If you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. Whether ganciclovir can harm an unborn baby is unknown. Ganciclovir should be used during pregnancy only if the potential benefits outweigh the potential risks to the fetus.
  • If you are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed. Do not breastfeed if you are infected with HIV.
  • About other prescription and nonprescription medicines, vitamins, nutritional supplements, and herbal products you are taking or plan to take. Ask your health care provider if there are interactions between ganciclovir and the other medicines you take.

Ask your health care provider about possible side effects from ganciclovir. Your health care provider will tell you what to do if you have side effects.

How should I take ganciclovir?

Take ganciclovir according to your health care provider's instructions. Your health care provider will tell you how much ganciclovir to take and when to take it. Before you start ganciclovir and each time you get a refill, read any printed information that comes with your medicine.

How should ganciclovir be stored?

  • Store ganciclovir implant at 59°F to 86°F (15°C to 30°C) and protect it from freezing and excessive heat or light.
  • Store ganciclovir injection at room temperature, 68°F to 77°F (20°C to 25°C).
  • Safely throw away ganciclovir that is no longer needed or expired (out of date).
  • Keep ganciclovir and all medicines out of reach of children.

Where can I find more information about ganciclovir?

More information about ganciclovir is available:

  • Email Email
  • Printable Single-Page Print-Friendly
  • Glossary Glossary

This article was provided by AIDSinfo. Visit the AIDSinfo website to find out more about their activities and publications.
See Also
Basic Information on Cytomegalovirus (CMV)
More on Cytomegalovirus (CMV) Treatment