Ribavirin is absorbed from the GI tract probably by nucleoside transporters. Absorption is about 45%, and this is modestly increased (to about 75%) by a fatty meal. Once in the plasma, ribavirin is transported through the cell membrane also by nucleoside transporters.
Ribavirin is widely distributed in all tissues, including the CSF and brain. The pharmacokinetics of ribavirin is dominated by trapping of the phosphate form inside cells, particularly red blood cells (RBCs) which lack the enzyme to remove the phosphate once it has been added by kinases, and therefore attain high concentrations of the drug. Most of the kinase activity which converts the drug to active nucleotide form, is provided by adenine kinase. This enzyme is more active in virally infected cells.
The volume of distribution of ribavirin is large (2000 L/kg) and the length of time the drug is trapped varies greatly from tissue to tissue. The mean half-life for multiple doses in the body is about 12 days, but very long-term kinetics are dominated by the kinetics of RBCs (half-life 40 days). RBCs store ribavirin for the lifetime of the cells, releasing it into the body's systems when old cells are degraded in the spleen.
About a third of absorbed ribavirin is excreted into the urine unchanged, and the rest is excreted into urine as the de-ribosylated base 1,2,4-triazole 3-carboxamide, and the hydrolysis product of this, 1,2,4-triazole 3-carboxylic acid.