(for veterinary information only)
BRAND NAME: ROFERON, INTRON A, ALFERON N
The search for a general stimulant for the immune system has been on-going and no single product has emerged as efficacious. Products that are currently employed as immunostimulants include: vitamin C, echinacea (an herb), acemannan (an aloe derivative), levamisole (a dewormer), and many others. The interferons are what we call “cytokines” meaning they are biochemicals secreted by cells of the immune system to regulate other cells of the immune system. There are several members of the interferon family classified according to the cell receptors to which they bind. Interferons are generally produced in the body in response to viral infections and have antiviral activity as well as immunostimulating properties.
Interferon use in human medicine became much more common after genetic engineering technology enabled mass production of interferon proteins. Interferon alpha is strongly antiviral in its higher doses and is a more general modulator of the immune response in lower (“dilute”) doses.
HOW THIS MEDICATION IS USED
A bottle of injectable Roferon® contains 3 million units of interferon. When this bottle is diluted in saline appropriately to a dose of 30 units per cc, it is easy to see how the single 3 million unit vial can be used to make fairly large quantities of dilute oral solution. This translates into a reasonably priced product that can be prepared in any veterinary hospital. At the present time interferon alpha 2a made from Roferon is becoming scarce as Roche pharmaceuticals has discontinued its manufacture. Interferon alpha 2b, Intron A®, is more expensive but should work the same way. A feline recombinant product is available in Europe and its introduction to North America is highly anticipated.
The oral preparation of dilute interferon is given once a day. The interferon enters the tonsils and lymph nodes of the throat as it is swallowed and exerts its immunostimulating effect there.
Situations where dilute interferon alpha is commonly prescribed are:
The low dose protocol was originally published with interferon given on alternating weeks (one week on medication and the next week off). This was because there was some concern that bone marrow suppression was possible with interferon as this had been seen in humans (albeit with higher doses). Since these fears were never realized, daily protocols have become more common.
At higher doses (in the 10,000 unit range) interferon alpha is directly antiviral. The higher dose protocols are not commonly used because of expense, side effects potential, and eventual development of antibody production rendering the drug useless. Situations where these protocols have been used include treatment of:
Interferon has been used topically in the feline eye for Herpes conjunctivitis.
The low-dose interferon protocol has not been associated with side effects, though since the preparation is made in saline, there is a possibly unpleasant salty taste. Giving the liquid mixed in food generally overcomes this issue.
The high dose protocol may be associated with fever, joint pain, and “flu-like” symptoms (nausea, diarrhea, dry mouth, dizziness etc). In humans, bone marrow toxicities have been reported at higher doses. So far bone marrow issues have not panned out as a problem for pets but this was the origin of the initial alternating week protocols.
INTERACTIONS WITH OTHER DRUGS
Interferon does not interact negatively with other drugs and is often combined with antibiotics and even anti-viral drugs.
CONCERNS AND CAUTIONS
It is only the higher anti-viral protocols that have potential negative side effects (as noted above).
Commercially available interferons are human recombinant products. This means that as foreign proteins, they stimulate the pet’s immune system to react against them. After 3-7 weeks on the high dose protocols, antibodies against interferon may be produced rendering them ineffective.
Page originally posted: 10/17/07