What is ganciclovir?
Ganciclovir is a prescription medicine approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of cytomegalovirus (CMV) retinitis (a viral infection and inflammation of the eye’s retina) in individuals with AIDS. Ganciclovir is also FDA-approved for the prevention of CMV disease in transplant recipients at risk for CMV diseases.
CMV diseases, including CMV retinitis, are opportunistic infections. An opportunistic infection is an infection that occurs more frequently or is more severe in people with weakened immune systems—such as those infected with HIV—than in people with healthy immune systems. To learn more about opportunistic infections, read the AIDSinfo What is an Opportunistic Infection? fact sheet.
Ganciclovir can also be used “off-label” to prevent and treat other opportunistic infections of HIV infection. “Off-label” use refers to use of an FDA-approved medicine in a manner different from that described on the medicine label. Good medical practice and the best interests of a patient sometimes require that a medicine be used “off-label.”
What HIV-related opportunistic infections is ganciclovir used for?
The Guidelines for the Prevention and Treatment of Opportunistic Infections in HIV-Infected Adults and Adolescents, prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the HIV Medicine Association of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA-HIVMA), includes recommendations on the HIV-related uses of ganciclovir. On-label, ganciclovir is recommended for the treatment of CMV retinitis. Ganciclovir is also recommended for use off-label to:
- Other types of CMV disease, including CMV pneumonitis (infection and inflammation of the lungs) and CMV neurological disease (infection and disease of the nervous system).
- Two varicella zoster virus (VZV) diseases called progressive outer retinal necrosis and acute retinal necrosis, both of which are infection and necrotizing inflammation (causing tissue death) of the eye's retina.
- Certain human herpesvirus 8 (HHV-8) diseases, including multicentric Castleman’s disease (a disease of the lymph nodes).
The above list may not include all of the HIV-related uses of ganciclovir recommended in the Guidelines for the Prevention and Treatment of Opportunistic Infections in HIV-Infected Adults and Adolescents. Some recommended uses, such as uses in certain rare circumstances, may have been omitted.
What should I tell my health care provider before taking ganciclovir?
Before taking ganciclovir, tell your health care provider:
- If you are allergic to ganciclovir or any other medicines.
- About any medical conditions you have or have had, for example, diabetes or liver problems.
- About anything that could affect your ability to take medicines, such as missing a scheduled dose or any health conditions that may prevent your use of intravenous medicines.
- If you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. Whether ganciclovir can harm an unborn baby is unknown, but ganciclovir may cause birth defects at recommended dose levels. Ganciclovir should not be used during pregnancy. Women taking ganciclovir should use birth control. Men taking ganciclovir should use barrier contraception (e.g., condoms) during treatment and for at least 90 days after treatment. Talk to your health care provider about possible risks with taking ganciclovir when pregnant.
- If you are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed. Do not breastfeed if you are infected with HIV.
- About other prescription and nonprescription medicines, vitamins, nutritional supplements, and herbal products you are taking or plan to take. Especially tell your doctor if you are taking zidovudine (brand name: Retrovir) or didanosine (brand names: Videx, Videx EC). Ganciclovir may affect the way other medicines or products work, and other medicines or products may affect how ganciclovir works. Ask your health care provider if there are interactions between ganciclovir and the other medicines you take.
Ask your health care provider about possible side effects from ganciclovir. Your health care provider will tell you what to do if you have side effects.
How should I take ganciclovir?
Take ganciclovir according to your health care provider’s instructions. Your health care provider will tell you how much ganciclovir to take and when to take it. Before you start ganciclovir and each time you get a refill, read any printed information that comes with your medicine.
How should ganciclovir be stored?
- Ganciclovir is prepared in many steps. Each step has different storage recommendations. Follow the instructions provided by your health care provider to prepare and store ganciclovir correctly.
- Do not use ganciclovir if the original seal over the container opening is broken or missing.
- Throw away ganciclovir that is no longer needed or expired (out of date). Follow FDA guidelines on how to safely dispose of unused medicine.
- Keep ganciclovir and all medicines out of reach of children.
Where can I find more information about ganciclovir?
More information about ganciclovir is available:
Last Reviewed: October 5, 2016