Aim: The aim of the present study was to analyze the efficacy and tolerance of interferon (IFN) therapy in hemodialysis (HD) patients with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. Specifically, we assessed whether the "normalization" of serum ALT levels was associated with the disappearance of the HCV-RNA.
Methods: Thirteen hemodialysis patients with chronic hepatitis C were treated for one year with 3 MU of alpha-IFN. The primary end point was a sustained virological response defined as the absence of HCV-RNA in the last follow-up; the secondary end points were normalization of the serum ALT levels and histological improvement. ALT was considered "normal" below 27 IU/l.
Results: Ten patients completed the treatment, which was discontinued in the other 3 (23%). By the end of the treatment a virological response was observed in 8 of the 10 patients (80%) who completed the one-year IFN therapy. Biochemical response was associated with a virological response in 8 of the 9 patients in whom ALT levels became normal. Three patients had a biochemical and virological relapse in the follow-up. Two of them received a further year of IFN therapy, which resulted in a sustained biochemical and virological response. In all patients who underwent a liver biopsy (n = 5), the inflammation score improved. After a median follow-up of 5 years (range 2 - 7), a sustained response was observed in 6 (46%) of the 13 patients enrolled. Two patients with a sustained response received a kidney transplant and after more than 6 years still maintain a biochemical and virological response. Side effects included flu-like syndrome (n = 8), hemoglobin decrease (n = 8), thrombocytopenia (n = 3), depression (n = 1) and seizures (n = 1).
Conclusion: IFN treatment over a one-year period produces a high rate of long-term virological response in HD patients, associated to a biochemical response in all cases.