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An Overview of Ribavirin (Copegus, Rebetol, Ribasphere)

May 23, 2016

Other Name(s): Copegus, RBV, Rebetol, Ribasphere
Drug Class: Opportunistic Infections and Coinfections

What Is Ribavirin?

Ribavirin is a prescription medicine approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. Ribavirin is always used in combination with other drugs. HCV infection is an HIV-related opportunistic infection. 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.

The Guidelines for the Prevention and Treatment of Opportunistic Infections in HIV-Infected Adults and Adolescents, prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the HIV Medicine Association of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA-HIVMA), and the Hepatitis C Guidance: AASLD-IDSA Recommendations for Testing, Managing, and Treating Adults Infected with Hepatitis C Virus, prepared by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD), the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), and the International Antiviral Society-USA (IAS-USA), both include recommendations on the HIV-related use of ribavirin to treat chronic HCV infection.

In addition to recommendations for the medicine's use in treating chronic HCV infection, the guidelines and the guidance include recommendations on the "off-label" use of ribavirin to treat acute HCV infection in HIV-infected individuals. "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 Should I Tell My Health Care Provider Before Taking Ribavirin?


Before taking ribavirin, tell your health care provider:

  • If you are allergic to ribavirin or any other medicines.
  • About any medical conditions you have or have had, for example, diabetes or liver problems.
  • If you take any of the following medicines: didanosine, stavudine, or zidovudine.
  • 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. Ribavirin may cause birth defects or death of an unborn child. Pregnant women and men whose partners are pregnant should not use ribavirin. (Women should not become pregnant during treatment with ribavirin. Women should also not become pregnant for 6 months after they stop taking ribavirin or for 6 months after their male partners stop taking ribavirin.)
  • 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. Ribavirin may affect the way other medicines or products work, and other medicines or products may affect how ribavirin works. Ask your health care provider if there are interactions between ribavirin and the other medicines you take.

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

How Should I Take Ribavirin?

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

How Should Ribavirin Be Stored?

  • Store ribavirin tablets and capsules at room temperature, between 59°F and 86°F (15°C to 30°C).
  • Store ribavirin oral solution at room temperature, between 59°F and 86°F (15°C to 30°C), or in the refrigerator, between 36°F and 46°F (2°C to 8°C). (An oral solution is a mixture of a medicine and a liquid that can be taken by mouth.)
  • Do not use ribavirin if the original seal over the medicine container opening is broken or missing. 
  • Throw away ribavirin that is no longer needed or expired (out of date). Follow FDA guidelines  on how to safely dispose of unused medicine.
  • Keep ribavirin and all medicines out of reach of children.

Where Can I Find More Information About Ribavirin?

More information about ribavirin is available:

The above Patient Version drug summary is based on the following FDA label(s): Capsule, liquid; Tablet (film coated).

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This article was provided by AIDSinfo. Visit the AIDSinfo website to find out more about their activities and publications.

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