When Is Ganciclovir Prescribed?
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Ganciclovir - Uses, Dosage, and Side Effects

Published on May 29, 2023   -  12 min read


Ganciclovir is an antiviral medication used for the treatment of Cytomegalovirus infection. Read the article below to know more.


Ganciclovir is an antiviral medication employed for the treatment of infections caused by specific viruses, including Cytomegalovirus (CMV) infections. It exhibits notable effectiveness in individuals with weakened immune systems, specifically those who have HIV or AIDS, as well as organ transplant recipients and individuals undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. Its mechanism of action involves preventing the virus from replicating within the body. Ganciclovir received its initial approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1989 for the treatment of Cytomegalovirus (CMV) retinitis in individuals with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Subsequently, it received additional approvals for the prevention of CMV disease in transplant recipients and for the treatment of CMV disease in various patient groups, including those with congenital CMV infection or CMV pneumonitis.

Dosage Forms-

Ganciclovir is available in various dosage forms, including:

  1. Intravenous Injection: Ganciclovir is available as a sterile powder that is reconstituted with a diluent and then given as an intravenous injection or infusion.

  2. Oral Capsules: Ganciclovir is also available in the form of oral capsules, which are swallowed with water.

  3. Ophthalmic Gel: Ganciclovir is also available as an ophthalmic gel, which is applied to the eye for the treatment of CMV retinitis.

  4. Intravitreal Implant: A sustained-release intravitreal implant of Ganciclovir is also available for the treatment of CMV retinitis in patients with AIDS.

Dosage and Administration -

  • Treatment of CMV Retinitis -
    • Induction - 5 milligrams per kilogram every 12 hours for 14 to 21 days.

    • Maintenance - 5 milligrams per kilogram once daily for seven days per week or 6 milligrams per kilogram once daily for five days per week.

  • Prevention of CMV Disease in Transplant Recipients -
    • Induction - 5 milligrams per kilogram every 12 hours for seven to 14 days.

    • Maintenance - 5 milligrams per kilogram once daily for seven days per week, or 6 milligrams per kilogram once daily for five days per week until 100 to 120 days post-transplantation.

What Are the Drug Warnings and Precautions?

  • Blood Cell Counts: Ganciclovir can cause a decrease in the number of blood cells, including white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. A healthcare provider may order regular blood tests to monitor the blood cell counts.

  • Kidney Function: Ganciclovir is primarily eliminated from the body through the kidneys. Therefore, the drug may accumulate in the body in patients with impaired kidney function, which may increase the risk of side effects. A healthcare provider may adjust the dose based on the kidney function.

Contraindications -

Ganciclovir is contraindicated in patients who have shown hypersensitivity to Ganciclovir or any of its components. It should not be given to patients who have severe neutropenia, leukopenia, thrombocytopenia, anemia, or any other significant hematologic abnormalities due to bone marrow suppression. Additionally, it is contraindicated in patients with severely impaired renal function.

Drug Interactions -

Ganciclovir can potentially interact with other medications and substances. Some of the significant drug interactions of Ganciclovir are:

  1. Imipenem-Cilastatin: The concurrent use of Imipenem-Cilastatin with Ganciclovir may increase the risk of seizures.

  2. Zidovudine: The concurrent use of Zidovudine with Ganciclovir may cause severe anemia.

  3. Myelosuppressive Agents: The concurrent use of myelosuppressive agents such as Zidovudine, Dapsone, Flucytosine, and Trimethoprim/Sulfamethoxazole with Ganciclovir may increase the risk of bone marrow suppression.

  4. Didanosine: The concurrent use of Didanosine with Ganciclovir may increase the risk of peripheral neuropathy.

  5. Probenecid: Probenecid can increase the plasma concentration of Ganciclovir by decreasing its renal clearance.

  6. Pentamidine: The concurrent use of Pentamidine with Ganciclovir may cause hypotension, hypoglycemia, or hyperglycemia.

  7. Tacrolimus: The concurrent use of Tacrolimus with Ganciclovir may increase the risk of nephrotoxicity.

Use in Specific Populations -

  • Use in Pregnancy: Ganciclovir is categorized as a pregnancy category C medication, indicating potential harm to a developing fetus. One should consult a doctor if they are pregnant or planning to conceive regarding the risks and benefits associated with the use of Ganciclovir.

  • Use in Breastfeeding: It is not known if Ganciclovir is excreted in human breast milk. Consult a healthcare provider to discuss the potential advantages and risks of using Ganciclovir during breastfeeding.

  • Use in Children: The safety and effectiveness of Ganciclovir in children have not been established.

  • Use in Elderly Patients: Elderly patients may be more susceptible to the side effects of Ganciclovir.

For Patients:

What Is Cytomegalovirus Infection?

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection is a viral infection caused by the Cytomegalovirus. While this infection is prevalent across all age groups, individuals with compromised immune systems are particularly susceptible to its potentially hazardous consequences, such as newborns, people with HIV and AIDS, and those who have had organ transplants. In healthy people, CMV infection may not cause any symptoms, but in immunocompromised people, it can cause symptoms such as fever, fatigue, and sore throat. CMV infection can be spread through bodily fluids such as blood, semen, urine, and breast milk. There is no cure for CMV infection, but antiviral medications can help manage the symptoms and reduce the risk of complications.

Why Is Ganciclovir Prescribed?

Ganciclovir capsules are a type of antiviral medication used to treat Cytomegalovirus (CMV) retinitis in individuals with compromised immune systems. This eye infection can lead to vision loss or blindness. Ganciclovir capsules are prescribed to manage CMV retinitis after initial treatment with intravenous Ganciclovir. Additionally, Ganciclovir is utilized for the prevention of CMV disease in individuals with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) or individuals who have undergone organ transplantation and possess a high vulnerability to CMV disease. By inhibiting the spread of CMV disease or slowing its growth, Ganciclovir acts to control and prevent the disease.

How Should Ganciclovir Be Taken?

  • Ganciclovir is taken orally in the form of capsules, usually with food. The usual frequency of intake is three to six times daily, as directed by the doctor.

  • In order to maintain appropriate dosing, it is crucial to take Ganciclovir at a consistent time every day. It is advised to carefully adhere to the instructions provided on the prescription label and not hesitate to ask a doctor or pharmacist for any questions or concerns.

  • Swallow Ganciclovir capsules whole, and do not crush, chew, split, or open them.

  • Be cautious when handling Ganciclovir capsules, and avoid contact with broken or crushed capsules to prevent skin, eye, mouth, or nose irritation. If contact occurs, clean the affected area with soap and water, or rinse the eyes with plain water.

  • Intravenous Ganciclovir is typically administered for several weeks before starting oral Ganciclovir. If the condition worsens, a second round of intravenous Ganciclovir may be necessary. Dosage adjustments may be required in case of side effects.

  • While Ganciclovir can control CMV, it cannot cure it. It can take some time to see the complete benefits of the medication. Therefore, continue taking Ganciclovir even if the patient feels better. Do not stop taking it unless advised by a doctor. Stopping Ganciclovir too soon may increase the amount of CMV in the blood or make the virus resistant to the medication.

What Special Precautions Should Be Followed?

  • Inform the doctor and pharmacist of any allergies to Ganciclovir, Acyclovir, Valganciclovir, or any other medications.

  • One should avoid taking Ganciclovir if they are already taking Valganciclovir.

  • Please provide a comprehensive list of all prescribed and over-the-counter medications, herbal products, vitamins, and nutritional supplements being used, including aminoglycoside antibiotics, Amphotericin B, diuretics, gold compounds, and others mentioned in the important warning section of the label.

  • Inform the doctor of any medical history of mental illness, seizures, or eye problems other than CMV retinitis, kidney or liver disease.

  • While taking Ganciclovir, it is advised not to breastfeed. Consult a doctor to determine the appropriate time to resume breastfeeding safely.

  • The doctor or dentist should be informed about Ganciclovir usage if a person is going to have surgery or dental surgery.

  • Be aware that Ganciclovir may cause drowsiness, dizziness, confusion, unsteadiness, or seizures, and avoid driving or operating machinery until a person knows how the medication affects them.

What Should Be Done in Case of a Missed Dose?

If an individual forgets a dose, it should be taken as soon as remembered. Nevertheless, if the next planned dose is imminent, it is advisable to forgo the missed dose and continue with the regular dosing schedule. It is crucial not to take a double dose to compensate for the missed one.

What Are the Side Effects of Ganciclovir?

  • Vomiting.

  • Sweating.

  • Diarrhea.

  • Stomach pain.

  • Flushing.

  • Joint or muscle pain or cramps.

  • Loss of appetite.

  • Changes in ability to taste food.

  • Constipation.

  • Belching.

  • Dry mouth.

  • Mouth sores.

  • Nervousness.

  • Depression.

  • Unusual dreams.

Some side effects can become serious, such as -

  • Chest pain.

  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing.

  • Mood changes.

  • Seizures.

  • Shaking hands, that is uncontrollable.

  • Sensations of numbness, pain, burning, or tingling in the hands or feet.

  • Seeing specks, flashes of light, or a dark curtain over everything.

  • Decreased urination.

  • Hives.

  • Rash.

  • Itching.

  • Edema or swelling in the hands, arms, feet, ankles, or lower legs.

Storage and Disposal -

  • To prevent accidental poisoning, always lock safety caps and place the medication in a safe location that is up and away, out of sight, and within the reach of children. This is of utmost importance due to the fact that numerous containers lack child-resistant features, making them easily accessible to young children.

  • If there is unneeded medication, it is important to dispose of it properly to prevent accidental consumption. Do not flush it down the toilet. Instead, look for a medicine take-back program in the community or contact the local garbage or recycling department.

  • It is recommended to store this medication in its original container, securely sealed, at room temperature, and away from excessive heat and moisture. Avoid storing it in the bathroom.

What Should Be Done in Case of Emergency?

Contact the poison control helpline number immediately if there is an emergency. If the patients experience seizures, have difficulty breathing, or cannot be awakened, they should be taken to a nearby hospital as soon as possible.

Other Information -

  • While taking this medication, it is likely that a doctor will request regular eye exams. Make sure to keep all of the appointments with the ophthalmologist.

  • Before undergoing any laboratory test, it is crucial to inform both a doctor and the laboratory personnel about the current use of Ganciclovir.

  • Do not share the medication with anyone else, and be sure to ask a pharmacist any questions regarding the refill process. Avoid running out of the supply of Ganciclovir.

  • It is essential to keep a written list of all prescription and non-prescription medications, vitamins, minerals, and other dietary supplements currently being taken. Take this list while visiting a doctor or in case of hospitalization. In case of emergencies, it is also important to have this information.

For Doctors:

Indication -

Ganciclovir is an antiviral medication that is primarily indicated for the treatment and prevention of viral infections caused by herpesviruses, including Cytomegalovirus (CMV), herpes simplex virus (HSV), and Varicella-zoster virus (VZV). Here are the specific indications of Ganciclovir:

  1. Treatment of CMV Infections: Ganciclovir is used to treat CMV infections, which can occur in immunocompromised patients like those with HIV and AIDS or those who have undergone organ transplantation. CMV infections can cause serious complications, including retinitis, pneumonitis, and gastrointestinal disease.

  2. Prophylaxis of CMV Infections: Ganciclovir may be used as prophylaxis to prevent CMV infections in high-risk patients, like those who have undergone bone marrow transplantation or solid organ transplantation.

  3. Treatment of HSV and VZV Infections: Although less commonly used for these indications, Ganciclovir may also be used to treat HSV and VZV infections, particularly in immunocompromised patients.

  4. Prevention of CMV Transmission From Organ Donors: Ganciclovir may be used in organ donors who are CMV-positive to reduce the risk of CMV transmission to the organ recipient.

Mechanism of Action: The mechanism of action of Ganciclovir involves the inhibition of viral DNA synthesis. Ganciclovir is a prodrug that is converted to its active form, Ganciclovir triphosphate, by a viral kinase enzyme present in the infected cells. Ganciclovir triphosphate is then incorporated into the viral DNA during replication, causing premature chain termination and inhibition of further viral DNA synthesis. Ganciclovir has a higher affinity for viral DNA polymerase than for cellular DNA polymerases, which limits its toxicity to host cells. However, it can still affect rapidly dividing cells, such as bone marrow cells, leading to myelosuppression and an increased risk of infections.

Pharmacokinetics -

  • Absorption: Ganciclovir is administered intravenously, orally, or topically (eye drops). Oral absorption is poor, with only about six percent of the dose being absorbed. However, intravenous administration results in rapid and complete absorption of the drug.

  • Distribution: Ganciclovir has a large volume of distribution and distributes widely throughout the body. It crosses the blood-brain barrier, and therapeutic concentrations have been observed in cerebrospinal fluid. Ganciclovir also penetrates the eye, achieving therapeutic concentrations in vitreous humor when given topically or intravenously.

  • Metabolism: Ganciclovir is primarily metabolized in the liver via phosphorylation and deamination to form its inactive metabolite, Ganciclovir monophosphate. The drug is also cleared by the kidneys, and patients with renal impairment may require dosage adjustment to prevent toxicity.

  • Elimination: Ganciclovir is eliminated primarily via renal excretion. The elimination half-life of Ganciclovir is approximately three hours in patients with normal renal function. In individuals with impaired renal function, the elimination half-life may be extended, requiring potential dosage adjustments.

Pharmacodynamics: Ganciclovir is a synthetic analog of 2'-deoxyguanosine, a nucleoside, which has been shown to hinder the replication of herpes viruses in vivo and in vitro. The drug has exhibited sensitivity towards various human viruses, such as Cytomegalovirus (CMV), Herpes simplex virus -1 and -2 (HSV-1, HSV-2), Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), and Varicella-zoster virus (VZV). However, its efficacy has been primarily evaluated in patients with CMV infections. Structurally, Ganciclovir is similar to Acyclovir and is a prodrug. The drug's mechanism of action involves its incorporation into viral DNA, which inhibits dATP, ultimately leading to flawed DNA and causing cessation or retardation of the viral machinery required for the virus to infect other cells.

Administration Instructions -

  1. Intravenous Administration: Ganciclovir is commonly administered intravenously for the treatment of CMV infections. The usual recommended dosage is generally 5 mg/kg given every 12 hours for a duration of 14 to 21 days. Depending on the patient's renal function, the dose may be modified. To minimize the likelihood of infusion reactions, Ganciclovir should be administered over a minimum of one hour.

  2. Oral Administration: Ganciclovir can be administered orally for the prophylaxis of CMV infections in high-risk patients. The recommended dose is typically 1000 mg twice daily. Oral Ganciclovir is less effective than IV Ganciclovir, and its use is generally limited to prophylaxis.

  3. Topical Administration: Ganciclovir eye drops are available for the treatment of CMV retinitis. The recommended dose is typically one drop in the affected eye every three to four hours while awake. Treatment should continue for at least 21 days and longer in some cases.

  4. Monitoring: Patients receiving Ganciclovir should be monitored for adverse effects, including myelosuppression, renal toxicity, and gastrointestinal toxicity. Regular monitoring of renal function is essential, and adjustments to the dosage should be made as deemed necessary.

  5. Precautions: Ganciclovir can cause fetal harm, and it is contraindicated in pregnancy unless the potential benefits outweigh the risks. Caution should be exercised when using Ganciclovir in patients with renal impairment or bone marrow suppression.

  6. Compatibility: Ganciclovir should not be mixed or co-administered with other medications or solutions, as it may result in precipitation or inactivation.

Adverse Effects -

  • Bone marrow suppression, which may lead to low white blood cell counts, anemia, and bleeding disorders.

  • Renal toxicity, which may result in kidney failure.

  • Hepatotoxicity, which may lead to liver damage or failure.

  • Neurotoxicity, which may result in seizures, confusion, hallucinations, or tremors.

  • Hypersensitivity reactions, which may cause anaphylaxis, angioedema, or Stevens-Johnson syndrome.

Clinical Studies -

Ganciclovir has been extensively studied in clinical trials for its effectiveness and safety in treating viral infections caused by herpesviruses, particularly CMV infections. Here are some examples of clinical studies involving Ganciclovir:

  1. Treatment of CMV Retinitis: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine provided evidence of the effectiveness of Ganciclovir in treating CMV retinitis in individuals with AIDS. The study found that Ganciclovir reduced the risk of progression of CMV retinitis by 67 percent, compared to placebo. The study also showed that Ganciclovir improved visual acuity in some patients.

  2. Prophylaxis of CMV Infection in Transplant Recipients: In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a randomized and double-blind trial was conducted to assess the efficacy of Ganciclovir in treating the condition. Ganciclovir was shown to be effective in preventing CMV infection in bone marrow transplant recipients. The study found that Ganciclovir prophylaxis reduced the incidence of CMV infection by 65 percent compared to the placebo. The study also showed that Ganciclovir prophylaxis was associated with a lower risk of other opportunistic infections.

  3. Treatment of Congenital CMV Infection: In a randomized, double-blind trial published in Pediatrics, Ganciclovir was shown to be effective in treating congenital CMV infection in newborns. The study found that Ganciclovir reduced the risk of hearing loss and neurodevelopmental impairment at six months of age.

  4. Prevention of CMV Transmission in Organ Donors: In a randomized, double-blind trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Ganciclovir was shown to be effective in reducing the risk of CMV transmission from organ donors to recipients. The study found that Ganciclovir prophylaxis in CMV-positive organ donors reduced the incidence of CMV infection in recipients by 50 percent.

Last reviewed at:
29 May 2023  -  12 min read




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