Only 30% of patients with chronic hepatitis C virus genotype 1 (HCV-1) infection achieve a sustained virological response to interferon and ribavirin combination therapy. We prospectively assessed decline in viral load 24 h after one dose of interferon alfa as a predictor of non-response to 6 months of treatment with interferon and ribavirin. Interferon sensitivity was measured before initiation of combination therapy. We measured viral load in 29 consecutive patients, who had not previously been treated with interferon and who were chronically infected with HCV-1 within 24 h after one dose of 5 MU or 10 MU interferon alfa-2b, and 14 days of daily 5 MU interferon alfa-2b. A 24 h viral load decline by less than 70% of baseline after 5 MU interferon was the best pretreatment measure to identify non-responders (specificity 100%, n=10, 95% CI 74-100], sensitivity 83% [15/18], 59-96]).