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Treatment of chronic hepatitis C in a Canadian Aboriginal population: results from the PRAIRIE study.

BACKGROUND: The Aboriginal population of Canada is at increased risk of exposure to the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Previous data indicate that spontaneous clearance of HCV occurs more often in Aboriginals than Caucasians. Whether this enhanced response extends to antiviral therapy for chronic HCV remains to be determined.

OBJECTIVES: To document and compare the biochemical and virological responses to antiviral therapy in HCV-infected Canadian Aboriginals and Caucasians.

METHODS: A total of 101 treatment-naive adult patients (46 Aboriginal, 55 Caucasian) with chronic HCV genotype 1 infections were prospectively treated with pegylated-interferon and ribavirin and followed as per national guidelines.

RESULTS: Aboriginals had higher HCV-RNA loads at baseline (6.42log(10) versus 5.98log(10); P<0.03). Although normalization of serum aminotransferase levels, decreases in viral loads, and rapid, early and end-of-treatment virological responses were similar in the two cohorts, sustained virological responses were significantly lower in Aboriginals (35% versus 55%; P=0.047). Premature discontinuation of treatment and⁄or loss of patients to follow-up was common (Aboriginals 37%, Caucasians 27%). Treatment-related side effects were similar in the two cohorts.

CONCLUSION: Despite higher rates of spontaneous HCV clearance, the response to antiviral therapy was similar, if not lower, in Aboriginals compared with Caucasians with chronic HCV genotype 1 infections. Compliance with treatment is an issue that needs to be addressed in the management of these patients.

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