Interferon in HIV Treatment: It Still Has Its Place

Interferons (IFN) are cells that are naturally produced in the body to fight against viral infections. When working as intended, interferons ultimately ward off and destroy the virus in the body. In fact, they are the main natural defense against cold and flu viruses. One major downside to interferon, though, is the harmful effects they have on the body while fighting viruses. You know that achy, nauseous feeling you get when you have the flu? Many of the symptoms equated with the flu actually don’t come from the virus itself; it comes from the effects of your body’s production of interferon cells. Interferon creates an inflammation in the body as it works, causing the ache that you experience. This negative side effect is a major reason why researchers have abandoned general use of interferon in HIV treatment.

Though this medication was used for several years as the only treatment of hepatitis C, new medications that have fewer side effects, a higher rate of success, and a shorter regimen period have replaced interferon treatment. However, in an attempt to keep the benefits of interferon treatment, researchers are trying to eliminate the negative side effects of IFNs while still keeping its effective virus-attacking properties intact. The results were mixed.

Researchers were successful in eliminating a majority of the side effects of IFN therapies, but they learned that when the inflammation is removed it affects interferon’s efficacy against viruses. It was also learned that interferon in HIV treatment, if given shortly after exposure to HIV, can be very effective—this despite the fact that general IFN treatment is still not the most effective way to manage HIV. Thus, it is important to keep in mind the type of treatment that an HIV patient is administered, and the timing of the treatment.