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Available options for treatment of interferon nonresponders

The American Journal of Medicine
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/s0002-9343(99)00386-1
  • Mathematics
  • Medicine


Abstract In the great majority of patients, hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is not self-limiting. Approximately 70% to 85% of patients exposed to HCV will go on to develop chronic hepatitis. Among those who undergo treatment with interferon α, only 15% to 20% can be expected to respond to a 12- to 18-month course of therapy. With the addition of ribavirin to interferon monotherapy, the likelihood of sustained response (defined as normal alanine aminotransferase levels and negative HCV RNA persisting 6 months after the end of therapy) increases to approximately 40%. The fact remains, however, that there is still a substantial proportion of patients who will fail to respond to treatment. Without viral eradication, cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma persist as long-term risks. Several options are available for the treatment of patients who fail to respond to interferon monotherapy. These include interferon dose escalation, whether by administering higher doses or administering them more frequently; changing to a different form of interferon; retreatment with a combination of interferon and ribavirin; adjunctive therapies, of which the best studied is phlebotomy to decrease hepatic iron stores; use of long-term, low-dose “maintenance”-type therapy; and watchful waiting with frequent follow-up. In the absence of long-term, large-scale clinical trials to support these modalities, physicians must exercise their best clinical judgment and individualize treatment to suit the patient’s condition, needs, and preferences.

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