Chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection may lead to cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. Interferon (IFN)-alpha is effective in the treatment of chronic hepatitis C. The rate of response to IFN is enhanced by increasing the IFN dose. Extending the treatment duration can reduce the relapse rate. Addition of ribavirin to IFN increases the sustained virological response (SVR). Thus, combination therapy with IFN and ribavirin was adopted for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C in Kaohsiung Medical University Hospital in 1998. Approximately 60% of patients receiving IFN/ribavirin therapy gained SVR. IFN 6 million units three times per week combined with daily ribavirin for 6 months achieved SVR more frequently than combination therapy with 3 million units. Factors for SVR in these combination regimens were HCV genotype, viral load and early virological response. Long-term follow-up of patients treated with IFN has shown that SVR might reduce the risk of progression to cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. Pegylated (peg)-IFN has a longer half-life and better efficacy. Combination therapy with peg-IFN and ribavirin accomplished higher SVR than conventional IFN and ribavirin. A multicenter clinical trial was conducted in Taiwan to compare the efficacy of combination therapy between peg-IFN/ribavirin and conventional IFN/ribavirin for 6 months. SVR was higher in patients receiving peg-IFN and ribavirin, especially in those infected with HCV genotype 1b. Based on the results obtained, the national health insurance started to sponsor the combination therapy in October 2003, with a suggested duration for 6 months. Some small-scale studies in Taiwan have postulated higher SVR for treatment duration of 12 than of 6 months in patients with genotype 1b. Further investigation should be conducted in the near future.
Copyright (c) 2006 S. Karger AG, Basel.