Background: Interferon (IFN) is standard therapy for chronic viral hepatitis in children. The aim of this study was to evaluate the side effects of alpha-interferon (IFN) in 94 consecutive children (58 males; age range, 3 to 14 years) affected by chronic viral hepatitis treated with different schedules ranging from 3 to 10 MU and from 3 to 12 months, and the impact of this therapy on health-related quality of life.
Methods: Side effects were evaluated with clinical and laboratory examinations and were recorded on a diary card. The health-related quality of life was evaluated with a modified version of the Sickness Impact Profile.
Results: All patients experienced at least one adverse reaction to IFN treatment; 80% had more than five side effects. There were no life-threatening reactions. Three children experienced severe reactions (febrile seizure, severe hypertransaminasemia and relapsing episodes of epistaxis, respectively) that required permanent IFN withdrawal. Another child had a febrile seizure requiring temporary IFN withdrawal. In seven children the neutrophil count fell below 1000/mm3 and promptly increased when IFN was temporarily discontinued. The remaining children had mild or moderate clinical and/or laboratory adverse reactions. Age, sex, viral etiology of chronic hepatitis and response to therapy were not significantly associated with the appearance of side effects. The pre-IFN health-related quality of life was good in all children; it deteriorated significantly during IFN therapy and returned to basal standards within 3 months after IFN withdrawal. No patient required suspension of IFN therapy because of worsening of health-related quality of life.
Conclusion: Children have a low risk of developing severe IFN-induced side effects. Adverse reactions and worsening of health-related quality of life were tolerable and did not seem to be a limiting factor for IFN therapy in young candidates.