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A 35-year-old white woman who recently tested seropositive for both HIV and hepatitis B virus surface antigen is referred for evaluation. She is feeling well overall but reports a 25-pack-year smoking history. She drinks 3–4 beers per week and has no known medication allergies. She has a history of heroin use and is currently receiving methadone. Physical examination reveals normal vital signs and no abnormalities. White blood cell count is 5800 cells/mm3 with a normal differential, hemoglobin is 11.8 g/dL, all liver tests are within normal limits, CD4 cell count is 278 cells/mm3, and viral load (HIV RNA) is 110,000 copies/mL. What other laboratory tests should be ordered? Which antiretroviral medications would you begin?

Viruses are obligate intracellular parasites; their replication depends primarily on synthetic processes of the host cell. Therefore, to be effective, antiviral agents must either block viral entry into or exit from the cell or be active inside the host cell. As a corollary, nonselective inhibitors of virus replication may interfere with host cell function and result in toxicity.

Progress in antiviral chemotherapy began in the early 1950s, when the search for anticancer drugs generated several new compounds capable of inhibiting viral DNA synthesis. The two first-generation antiviral agents, 5-iododeoxyuridine and trifluorothymidine, had poor specificity (ie, they inhibited host cell DNA as well as viral DNA) that rendered them too toxic for systemic use. However, both agents are effective when used topically for the treatment of herpes keratitis.

Knowledge of the mechanisms of viral replication has provided insights into critical steps in the viral life cycle that can serve as potential targets for antiviral therapy. Recent research has focused on identifying agents with greater selectivity, higher potency, in vivo stability, and reduced toxicity. Antiviral therapy is now available for herpes simplex virus (HSV), cytomegalovirus (CMV), varicella zoster virus (VZV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), influenza, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Antiviral drugs share the common property of being virustatic; they are active only against replicating viruses and do not affect latent virus. Whereas some infections require monotherapy for brief periods of time (eg, HSV, influenza), others require multiple drug therapy for indefinite periods (HIV). In chronic illnesses such as viral hepatitis and HIV infection, potent inhibition of viral replication is crucial in limiting the extent of systemic damage.

Viral replication requires several steps (see Figure 49–1). Antiviral agents can potentially target any of these steps.


The major sites of antiviral drug action. Note: Interferon alfas are speculated to have multiple sites of action. (Modified with permission from Trevor AJ, Katzung BG, Masters SB: Pharmacology: Examination & Board Review, 9th ed. New York, NY: McGraw Hill; 2010.)

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