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Side Effect: Virus Infection

What is Virus Infection?

A viral infection is an illness caused by a virus that invades and replicates in a host cell. Viral infections can range from mild, self-limiting illnesses like the common cold, to more severe and potentially life-threatening diseases like COVID-19. Virus infections can affect many organs systems, including lung (respiratory infections), stomach (digestive system infections), skin (exanthematous, rash-causing) infections, as well as others.

What does Virus Infection look like?

The symptoms of a viral infection can vary depending on the virus and the individual's immune response to it. Common symptoms of viral infections include fever, fatigue, muscle aches, cough, sore throat, runny nose, or gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Virus Infection

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Who gets Virus Infection?

Anyone can get a viral infection, but certain populations may be at higher risk. For example, young children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems (i.e., patients with cancer) are more susceptible to viral infections.

How to prevent Virus Infection

Prevention of viral infections involves taking measures to reduce the risk of exposure to viruses. This can include practicing good hygiene, such as washing hands, avoiding close contact with sick individuals, and wearing a mask in crowded places. Vaccination is also an effective way to prevent certain viral infections, such as the flu (influenza). Prophylactic antiviral medications may also be recommended for certain high-risk patients, so it is important to ask your doctor if you qualify for these based upon the type of treatment you are receiving.

How to treat Virus Infection

Treatment of viral infections in cancer patients can be challenging because cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy, can weaken the immune system and make patients more susceptible to infections. Antiviral medications may be used to treat certain viral infections in cancer patients. The use of these medications must be carefully considered in the context of the patient's cancer treatment, potential effectiveness of the antiviral medication, potential drug interactions, and ability to tolerate the antiviral medication.

Anti-viral medications:

Orally available anti-viral medications:
• Acyclovir
• Valacyclovir (Valtrex)
• Valganciclovir (Valcyte)
• Famciclovir
• Oseltamivir
• Ribavirin

Intravenous anti-viral medications:
• Cidofovir
• Foscarnet
• Ganciclovir
• Ribavirin

Inhaled anti-viral medications:
• Ribavirin

Supportive care medications:
• Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG)

Examples of antiviral medications used to treat specific virus infections:

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) Herpes Zoster Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) BK virus Parvovirus B19 Herpes simplex virus (HSV) Influenza
Ganciclovir Acyclovir Ribavirin Cidofovir IVIG Acyclovir Oseltamivir (Tamiflu)
Foscarnet Valacyclovir       Valacyclovir  
ValGANciclovir         Famciclovir  

Note: Human immunodeficiency virus treatment (HIV is not discussed on this page).
Note: Hepatitis C virus treatment is not discussed on this page.


1. Safdar A, Bodey G, Armstrong D. Infections in Patients with Cancer: Overview. Principles and Practice of Cancer Infectious Diseases. 2011 Jan 4:3–15.

2. Tomblyn et al. (2017). Guidelines for preventing infectious complications among hematopoietic cell transplantation recipients: a global perspective. Biology of Blood and Marrow Transplantation, 23(9), 1422-1448.

Created: December 15, 2023 Updated: December 15, 2023