Most viral diseases, with the exception of those caused by human immunodeficiency virus, are self-limited illnesses that do not require specific antiviral therapy. The currently available antiviral drugs target 3 main groups of viruses: herpes, hepatitis, and influenza viruses. With the exception of the antisense molecule fomivirsen, all antiherpes drugs inhibit viral replication by serving as competitive substrates for viral DNA polymerase. Drugs for the treatment of influenza inhibit the ion channel M2 protein or the enzyme neuraminidase. Combination therapy with Interferon-α and ribavirin remains the backbone treatment for chronic hepatitis C; the addition of serine protease inhibitors improves the treatment outcome of patients infected with hepatitis C virus genotype 1. Chronic hepatitis B can be treated with interferon or a combination of nucleos(t)ide analogues. Notably, almost all the nucleos(t) ide analogues for the treatment of chronic hepatitis B possess anti-human immunodeficiency virus properties, and they inhibit replication of hepatitis B virus by serving as competitive substrates for its DNA polymerase. Some antiviral drugs possess multiple potential clinical applications, such as ribavirin for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C and respiratory syncytial virus and cidofovir for the treatment of cytomegalovirus and other DNA viruses. Drug resistance is an emerging threat to the clinical utility of antiviral drugs. The major mechanisms for drug resistance are mutations in the viral DNA polymerase gene or in genes that encode for the viral kinases required for the activation of certain drugs such as acyclovir and ganciclovir. Widespread antiviral resistance has limited the clinical utility of M2 inhibitors for the prevention and treatment of influenza infections. This article provides an overview of clinically available antiviral drugs for the primary care physician, with a special focus on pharmacology, clinical uses, and adverse effects.
ASJC Scopus subject areas