Efficacy of pegylated interferon plus ribavirin combination therapy for hepatitis C patients with normal ALT levels: a matched case–control study
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The antiviral effect of pegylated interferon (Peg-IFN) plus ribavirin combination therapy in chronic hepatitis C (CHC) patients with normal alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels (N-ALT) has been reported to be equivalent to that for patients with elevated ALT levels (E-ALT). However, the actual antiviral effect in N-ALT patients remains obscure because efficacy can be overestimated in patients with an advantageous background.
In this study, 386 patients were extracted, for a matched case–control study, from 1320 CHC patients treated with Peg-IFN alpha-2b plus ribavirin combination therapy; 193 N-ALT patients [116 with hepatitis C virus genotype 1 (HCV-1), 77 with HCV genotype 2 (HCV-2)] were matched with 193 E-ALT patients by a propensity score method using the variables of age, sex, IFN treatment history, body mass index, and platelet counts.
On multivariate analysis for sustained virological response (SVR) in N-ALT patients, younger age, low HCV RNA level at baseline, and HCV-2 were significant factors. The matched case–control study showed that the SVR rates of N-ALT patients were equivalent to those of E-ALT patients; at 49 and 40% in the HCV-1 group (P = 0.146), and 78 and 81% in the HCV-2 group (P = 0.691). However, in N-ALT patients with non-SVR, approximately 40% showed ALT elevation at 24 weeks post-treatment.
Our findings indicate that the antiviral effect of Peg-IFN plus ribavirin therapy in N-ALT patients is comparable to that for E-ALT patients irrespective of their advantageous background; however, the application of this therapy for N-ALT patients, especially for those with HCV-1, should be considered carefully.