Skip to content

    Women's Health

    Font Size

    West Nile Treatment Study Begins

    Hepatitis C Drug May Prevent West Nile Death, Brain Damage
    WebMD Health News

    Aug. 23, 2002 -- A drug now used to treat hepatitis C may help people with severe West Nile virus infection. A clinical trial to test the drug in people with serious West Nile disease already is underway.

    The drug is called alpha interferon, a man-made version of one of the body's natural defenses against viruses and other germs. Cornell University researcher James Rahal, MD, and colleagues hope that by treating patients early in the course of a West Nile infection, they can prevent the brain damage that can occur. Interferon treatment will not reverse any brain damage caused by the infection.

    Last year, Rahal's team used alpha interferon to treat 15 patients with St. Louis encephalitis virus, a close cousin of West Nile virus. Compared with untreated patients, those treated with the drug did much better. They suffered much less damage from their brain infections.

    "I am hopeful it is effective but I am not deceiving myself," Rahal tells WebMD. "The results of that study were sufficiently encouraging to do a trial with West Nile virus patients -- but we just don't know yet whether it will work."

    The type of alpha interferon being studied is Intron A, made by Schering Plough. The company is helping pay for the study. Intron A is in drug stores -- and doctors theoretically could prescribe it for West Nile infection. But Rahal warns that it's far too soon to know whether the drug really works against this virus. And it can have serious side effects. It makes people feel like they have a bad case of the flu and it can reduce infection-fighting blood cells to dangerously low levels. These side effects go away when treatment stops.

    "Many people may say, 'Well, give it to me,'" Rahal says. "But interferon is not chicken soup. It has its side effects. They should know that this is a powerful drug."

    The new study will enroll 40 patients from all over the country. To enter the trial, patients must begin treatment within four days of entering the hospital. Patients aged 50 and older must have evidence of West Nile infection in their spinal fluid. Patients aged 18-49 must have clinical evidence of West Nile encephalitis.

    Today on WebMD

    hands on abdomen
    Test your knowledge.
    womans hand on abdomen
    Are you ready for baby?
    birth control pills
    Learn about your options.
    Is it menopause or something else?
    woman in bathtub
    bp app on smartwatch and phone
    estrogen gene

    Send yourself a link to download the app.

    Loading ...

    Please wait...

    This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.


    Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

    Blood pressure check
    hot water bottle on stomach
    Attractive young woman standing in front of mirror