Early monotherapy with pegylated interferon alpha-2b for acute hepatitis C infection: the HEP-NET acute-HCV-II study

Johannes Wiegand, Peter Buggisch, Wulf Boecher, Stefan Zeuzem, Cornelia M Gelbmann, Thomas Berg, Wolfgang Kauffmann, Birgit Kallinowski, Markus Cornberg, Elmar Jaeckel, Heiner Wedemeyer, Michael P Manns
Hepatology: Official Journal of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases 2006, 43 (2): 250-6
Early treatment of acute hepatitis C with interferon alpha-2b for 24 weeks prevents chronic infection in almost all patients. Because pegylated interferons have replaced conventional interferon in the therapy of chronic hepatitis C, the aim of this study was to analyze the efficacy of an early treatment of acute hepatitis C with peginterferon alpha-2b. Between February 2001 and February 2004, 89 individuals with acute HCV infection were recruited at 53 different centers in Germany. Patients received 1.5 microg/kg peginterferon alpha-2b for 24 weeks; treatment was initiated after a median of 76 days after infection (range 14-150). End-of-treatment response and sustained virological response were defined as undetectable HCV RNA at the end of therapy and after 24 weeks of follow-up, respectively. In the total study population, virological response was 82% at the end of treatment and 71% at the end of follow-up. Of 89 individuals, 65 (73%) were adherent to therapy, receiving 80% of the interferon dosage within 80% of the scheduled treatment duration. End-of-treatment and sustained virological response rates in this subpopulation were 94% and 89%, respectively. A maximum alanine aminotransferase level of more than 500 U/L prior to therapy was the only factor associated with successful treatment. In conclusion, in acute HCV infection, early treatment with peginterferon alpha-2b leads to high virological response rates in individuals who are adherent to treatment. The high number of dropouts underlines the importance of thorough patient selection and close monitoring during therapy. Thus, future studies should identify factors predicting spontaneous viral clearance to avoid unnecessary therapy.

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