Introduction: Hepatitis C Viral (HCV) infection is the leading cause of chronic liver disease in end-stage renal disease patients (ESRD). The impact of HCV on patient and graft survival posttransplantation is controversial. The most successful approach is to eliminate the virus while the patient is on dialysis prior to transplantation. The main aim of this pilot study was to assess the efficacy of combined alpha-interferon (alpha-IFN) and ribavirin treatment of HCV hemodialysis (HDx) patients, by comparing the sustained virological response to that obtained by local historical data on treatment with alpha-IFN alone. A secondary aim was to establish the optimal therapeutic dose of ribavirin in this regimen.
Methods: Twenty HCV-HDx patients who were histologically (liver biopsy) and virologically (HCV-PCR)-positive were selected randomly. They received combination therapy with 3 million units (MU) of alpha-IFN and 200 mg of ribavirin three times a week. Initially nine patients were treated for 24 weeks. Later, another 11 patients were randomly selected to give the combination for 48 weeks.
Results: Six of the nine patients who were treated for 24 weeks (66%) became HCV-PCR-negative by the end of the treatment period. They continued to have a sustain virologic response at 6 months after the cessation of therapy. Six of the 11 patients (55%) who were treated for 48 weeks became HCV-PCR-negative at the end, and at 6 months after cessation of treatment. Of the first six responders, 4 (66%) maintained a sustained virologic response at 1 year postcessation of therapy. Nine of the 11 patients had genotype 4 and 1. No side effects were reported for a ribavirin dose of 200 mg three times a week.
Conclusion: This pilot study suggests that combination treatment for 24 weeks and 48 weeks with 3 MU alpha-IFN and 200 mg ribavirin three times a week, elicited a sustained virologic response in HDx patients with HCV infection better than IFN alone with minimal side effects. A prospective, double-blind, controlled study using pegylated INF plus ribavirin is currently underway.