Subcutaneous immunoglobulin (SCIg) therapy
Immunoglobulins (commonly known as antibodies) are used to treat adults and children with primary immune deficiencies (and other medical conditions), who are unable to make enough of their own antibodies, or who have antibodies that don’t work properly. Replacing these antibodies helps to protect against infection and can prevent long term damage from ongoing infections (such as chronic lung disease).
Subcutaneous Immunoglobulin (SCIg) infusions are given by slowly injecting purified immunoglobulin into fatty tissue just underneath the skin. SCIg can be given at home, using a mechanical infusion pump (spring loaded or battery powered) or by rapid push (a manual method that does not require a pump - infusion is pushed by hand through a syringe).
What are the risks associated with SCIg?
SCIg is very well tolerated and safe. SCIg is made from plasma (the liquid part of blood), which comes from blood donors who are checked to make sure they are healthy and do not have certain infectious diseases. This means that there is an extremely low (almost zero) chance of blood borne viruses (such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, HIV and Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (also called “mad cow disease”).
Reactions or side effects to SCIg include:
- Common injection site reactions such as redness, swelling and itching – these are usually mild and go away over a day or two. Reactions are generally worse with the first few infusions and get better over time.
- Uncommon side effects such as headache, feeling hot, nausea, diarrhoea, sore throat, rash, increased cough and back pain – these are usually mild.
- Extremely rare and serious side effects such as allergic reactions, kidney problems or blood clots.
If a reaction occurs you must inform your nurse specialist or doctor as soon as possible and get advice before having any more infusions. For information about managing reactions see pages 5 and 6 of this document.
What needs to be done before starting SCIg?
Before you start on SCIg, your nurse specialist will provide you with information and training on how to give SCIg at home. You will need to sign a consent form to say that you understand the need for treatment and the chance of reactions that may occur with the treatment.
Choosing a SCIg infusion site
Using the same site for infusions can help reduce the amount of local swelling and redness that can occur after an infusion. Usually the lower abdomen will be used. However, the outer edge of the thigh or back of the upper arm can also be used for SCIg infusions. Avoid bony areas such as the hips.
When using the lower abdomen in adults and most children, the needle should be inserted at least 5cm away from the belly button. If using more than one site at a time, make sure they are at least 5cm apart.
Before you infuse, have your equipment ready (see checklist). It is recommended you have a cold pack, a non-drowsy antihistamine and an analgesic (pain medication) available in case of a mild reaction.
The shaded areas shown below can be used for insertion of the needle:
Note: Do not insert the needle where the skin is scarred, bruised, broken or inflamed (such as eczema).
Examples of SCIg infusions:
Boy having SCIg infusion using a pump
Patient inserting needle in the fat under the skin in order to give a SCIg infusion
Documenting the SCIg infusion
The details of each infusion session must be recorded in a SCIg Infusion diary. Your nurse specialist or doctor will give you a SCIg infusion diary and will explain the information you will need to record. Completed diaries must be available for review by your nurse specialist or doctor at each outpatient clinic visit.
Ordering, collection, transport and storage of SCIg
- Make sure you order SCIg product in advance (follow your SCIg treatment plan).
- Your nurse specialist or doctor will explain how and where to collect the SCIg product and this should be included in your SCIg treatment plan.
- SCIg must be kept cool (2-8°C) for the journey home:
- When collecting SCIg you must provide a cool box or cool bag large enough to transport vials with an icepack. Ensure SCIg vials are not in direct contact with the ice, to avoid possible freezing.
- Take SCIg home immediately and place in a sealed container in the central part of the refrigerator.
- Storage temperatures are dependent on product choice - your nurse specialist will tell you how to store the SCIg product you are using. However, the following principles should be followed for all SCIg products:
- Store SCIg in original packaging until needed, and protected from light
- Store SCIg between 2°C and 25°C and avoid extreme temperatures.
- Do not freeze (never store SCIg below 2oC) and do not use SCIg that has been frozen.
- Do not store SCIg in the door or bottom storage unit of the refrigerator.
- Do not store SCIg near the cold outlet from freezer to refrigerator (in combination freezer-refrigerator).
- Do not shake SCIg.
If you have a power or refrigerator failure and are unable to keep SCIg refrigerated:
- Contact your nurse specialist as soon as practical for further advice.
- If fridge is still cold, keep your supply in the fridge.
- If the fridge is no longer cold, place SCIg in your transport cool box or cool bag with an ice pack.
Product from a vial is for single use only:
- Once opened, SCIg must be used within 4 hours.
- If you are unable to complete your infusion, any unused product should be discarded.
- All SCIg vials must be disposed of in the sharps container provided by your hospital. These should be returned to the hospital or pharmacy. Do not discard SCIg in your household bin.
SCIg Product - Hizentra®
- Once removed from the refrigerator, store Hizentra® between 2°C and 25°C and use up until expiry date.
- Hizentra® is a clear, pale yellow to light brown solution. Do not use if the solution is cloudy or contains particles.
SCIg Product - Evogam®
- Once removed from the refrigerator, store Evogam® between 2°C and 25°C and use within two weeks.
- Evogam® is a clear, pale-yellow to light brown solution. Do not use if the solution is cloudy or contains particles.
Checking SCIg vials before an infusion
All SCIg vials should be checked for the following prior to an infusion:
- Expiry date on the vial - DO Not Use if out of date
- Protective cap is in place - DO Not Use if seal is broken
- Solution in vial is clear - DO NOT USE if solution is cloudy, discoloured or contains particles
Contact your nurse specialist if any of the above happens.
Travelling with SCIg
Travelling with SCIg requires planning well beforehand. A dose of Intravenous Immunoglobulin G (IVIg) before you travel may be a convenient alternative option. For shorter periods of travel, you may give the SCIg doses due as extra SCIg infusions before and after the trip. Speak to your doctor or nurse specialist for advice well before travelling, especially overseas.
When planning a trip:
- Contact your nurse specialist as you may require an export permit if going overseas. For information go to www.blood.gov.au/supply-australians-overseas
- When flying, take SCIg with you on the plane in carry-on luggage. It must not be put into checked-in luggage. Don’t forget to collect it before you leave the plane.
- It is important to keep SCIg at an appropriate temperature for your product at all times (check product information, and if uncertain check with your nurse specialist). Never store SCIg below 2°C or above 25°C.
- Get a travel plan and/or letter from your nurse specialist or doctor and take this and your treatment plan with you in your carry-on luggage.
- Pack pain medication and a non-drowsy antihistamine in case of adverse reactions.
- Pack enough consumable equipment for the trip.
- Pack enough SCIg for the trip and store this in original packaging until needed, in a cool box or cooler bag.
If unwell, pregnant or breastfeeding
Contact your doctor or nurse specialist for further advice if:
- If you are unwell with a fever
- If you suspect you are pregnant, or if you are breast feeding.
Your doctor and nurse specialist will work with you to develop a plan for who, how and under what circumstances you will need to contact someone if you or your child have an adverse reaction.
SCIg and vaccinations
Some immunisations may not be required while on SCIg. Discuss this with your doctor.
Managing side effects of SCIg
Common reactions at the injection site include swelling (egg sized lump), “hardness”, blanching and redness at the infusion site. These local reactions are normal and short lived (usually gone by the next day). They are more common in people who have just started SCIg, especially in the first few months.
Using the same site for SCIg infusions can help to reduce the amount of local swelling and redness that can occur after an infusion. Over time, the skin will “get used” to the repeated infusions, and local reactions will lessen. Most people start to notice a decrease in local reactions after about 8-10 weeks.
If an injection site reaction occurs:
- Do not rub or scratch the site. Apply gentle massage and warm or cold pack (according to your personal preference) to reduce discomfort. Report unusual site reactions, such as extreme pain or discomfort, blistering or spreading redness to your nurse specialist.
- Record site reactions in the infusion diary.
- Refer to table on the next page for different ways to manage reactions/problems at the infusion site.
Mild infusion site reaction:
Moderate infusion site reaction:
Pictures courtesy of Wasserman RL. Patient Prefer Adherence. 2008; 2: 163–166
Management guide for SCIg infusion site reactions and problems
Common reaction, which usually settles over 24 hours.
If redness is excessive:
Common reaction, which usually settles over 24 hours, resulting from the amount of fluid being infused underneath the skin (amount of swelling should relate to the volume being infused).
Itching or burning
Pain with infusions
Normal tightening of tissue that can occur as SCIg infuses into the fatty tissue under the skin.
Leaking from the infusion site
Management guide for other reactions to SCIg
© ASCIA 2018
ASCIA is the peak professional body of clinical immunology and allergy specialists in Australia and New Zealand
This document has been adapted with permission from resources developed by Princess Margaret Hospital Immunology Department (Department of Health, Western Australia). It has been peer reviewed by ASCIA members and is based on expert opinion and the available published literature at the time of review. Information contained in this document is not intended to replace medical advice and any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical practitioner. Development of this document is not influenced by commercial organisations.
Content updated June 2018