When my mom was in the hospital with RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) recently, we explored a few of the treatment options. Because she had a kidney transplant years prior, she needs to be especially careful about which medicine she takes to avoid compromising the health and safety of her newest organ. In our research, we came upon a treatment called Ribavirin. In addition to RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), the medicine also treats hepatitis C and other viral infections. Though Ribavirin used to be administered with an aerosol treatment that involved a box around the patient’s head, it is not consumed orally. The doctors agreed that Ribavirin wasn’t necessary in my mom’s case, but we did find out that the drug is considered category X for pregnant women.

When the FDA classifies a drug as category X, it means that studies have proven the fact that treatment causes serious birth defects. If you were to come down with an illness that could only be treated with a category X drug, you’d need to decide with your doctor whether or not induced labor might be the only other option, because taking the treatment would seriously interfere with your baby’s health. Riboflavin is one such drug. Luckily, the risks of the viruses that prompt the idea of Riboflavin treatment are normally not life-threatening, so the decision to hold off on treatment is a fairly easy one.

If you come down with RSV (respiratory syncytial virus)  during your pregnancy, there is a good chance your doctor won’t even think to give you Riboflavin because of the clearly stated risks. However, it’s always good to know which drugs are safe and which are not so that you can feel informed should you become ill. Also, it’s not impossible for a doctor to make a human error, so staying informed about your options could save your life someday. 

The best way to avoid category X medications during your pregnancy is to stay healthy throughout. Always wash your hands and avoid contact with sick people as much as possible. Even avoiding contact with young children can keep you from coming down with viruses that spread like wildfire on school property. If you can avoid viruses and illnesses while you are pregnant, you’ll avoid the medications needed to treat them. Sometimes, treating an illness without the usual category X medicine can be difficult and time-consuming, so it’s best to play the figurative defense rather than the offense.

Source: Susan Roberts: Assessing Ribavirin Exposure During Pregnancy. The Ribavirin Pregnancy Registry. Gastroenterology Nursing Volume 31 Issue 6 pp. 413-417 November 2008

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