Oral Ribavirin for the Treatment of Noninfluenza Respiratory Viral Infections: A Systematic Review

Ann Pharmacother. 2015 Oct;49(10):1125-35. doi: 10.1177/1060028015597449. Epub 2015 Jul 30.


Objective: To review clinical outcomes data for patients treated with oral ribavirin for noninfluenza respiratory viral infections (NIRVIs).

Data sources: MEDLINE, EMBASE, and PubMed Central (1972 to June 1, 2015) were queried with the following search term combinations: "Oral" AND "ribavirin" AND ("respiratory syncytial virus" OR "metapneumovirus" OR "parainfluenza" OR "coronavirus" OR "rhinovirus" OR "enterovirus" OR "adenovirus").

Study selection and data extraction: Included studies must have characterized the clinical outcomes of a cohort of patients treated with oral ribavirin for symptomatic NIRVIs. Case reports and series with <5 cases, conference abstracts, and articles written in languages other than English were excluded.

Data synthesis: Of the 1256 unique reports, 15 met inclusion criteria: 12 retrospective, 3 prospective, and 3 comparative with untreated control groups. All studies except for 2 Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) studies were in immunocompromised patients (9 malignancy/stem cell transplant, 4 lung transplant). The mortality rate ranged from 0% to 31% in malignancy/stem cell transplant recipients treated with oral ribavirin, and 1/108 (0.9%) ribavirin-treated lung transplant recipients died at 30 days. Three studies (one each for malignancy, lung transplant, and MERS-CoV) suggested a clinical outcomes benefit with oral ribavirin compared with supportive care alone; however, the nonrandomized design precludes efficacy determination. Hemolysis was the most common adverse reaction, occurring in 14% (54/375) of patients. Ribavirin was discontinued in 4% of patients secondary to adverse reactions.

Conclusions: Oral ribavirin should be considered for the treatment of NIRVI in immunocompromised adults (malignancy/stem cell transplant or lung transplant) or adults with MERS-CoV.

Keywords: antivirals; community-acquired pneumonia; infectious diseases; respiratory infections; viral infections.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use*
  • DNA Viruses*
  • Humans
  • Immunocompromised Host
  • RNA Viruses*
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / drug therapy*
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / immunology
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / virology
  • Ribavirin / therapeutic use*
  • Virus Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Virus Diseases / immunology
  • Virus Diseases / virology


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Ribavirin