Background: Treatment of hepatitis C virus (HCV) has become a major challenge in HIV-infected individuals. No data exist on the efficacy and tolerability of pegylated IFN (peg-IFN) plus ribavirin in HIV-co-infected patients.
Methods: Subcutaneous peg-IFN (150 microg weekly during the first 12 weeks and 100 microg weekly thereafter) plus ribavirin (400 mg twice a day) was given to 68 HIV-infected patients with chronic hepatitis C, having CD4 cell counts greater than 300 cells/microl, plasma HIV-RNA less than 5000 copies/ml, and elevated aminotransferase levels. All were naive for IFN, and 73% were receiving antiretroviral drugs.
Results: Plasma HCV-RNA levels greater than 800 000 IU/ml were seen in 50%, and 35% carried HCV genotype 3. Adverse events leading to treatment discontinuation occurred in 10 patients (15%). One patient taking didanosine developed pancreatitis. Severe weight loss occurred in 70% of patients. Clearance of HCV-RNA at the end of therapy (6 months for HCV-3 and 12 months for HCV-1/4) occurred in 50% of patients (81% with HCV-3 versus 30% with HCV-1/4). As 30% relapsed, the overall sustained response rate was 35% (28% in the intent-to-treat analysis). The main predictors of response were infection with HCV-3 and low HCV load.
Conclusion: Treatment with peg-IFN and ribavirin is relatively well-tolerated in HIV/HCV-co-infected patients, although new side-effects, including pancreatitis and severe weight loss, may result from the interaction of ribavirin with antiretroviral drugs. Overall, therapy provides cure to one third of patients, a rate significantly lower than that seen in HCV-monoinfected individuals. Given that relapses are common, extended periods of therapy should be investigated.