Viral kinetics during the first weeks of pegylated interferon and ribavirin treatment can identify patients at risk of relapse after its discontinuation: new strategies for such patients?
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Pegylated interferon (PEG-IFN) and ribavirin is the most effective treatment for chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) hepatitis, but the rate of sustained virological response (SVR) remains approximately 50%, and 15–20% of all treated patients have a virological relapse after completing the treatment. Studies on the SVR have failed to discriminate between non-responders and relapsers.
To identify the risk factors for relapse among patients with an end-of-treatment response (ETR).
We retrospectively analyzed 281 patients consecutively treated with PEG-IFN and ribavirin with a follow-up period of at least 24 weeks. The baseline details collected on each patient included demographic data, histological features, and biochemical profiles.
Forty-six patients (16.4%) relapsed during the first 6 months of follow-up after discontinuing the therapy. Relapser patients were significantly older, had more steatosis, fibrosis, and showed significantly lower rapid virological response (RVR) rates compared with SVR patients. By logistic regression analysis, only the absence of RVR was found to be significantly associated with relapses in both subgroups of patients with genotypes 1 and 4 (p < 0.004) and those with genotypes 2 and 3 (p < 0.006). Severe fibrosis was also predictive of relapsing disease, but only for genotypes 2 and 3 patients (p < 0.003). During the treatment, serum HCV-RNA decreased more rapidly in patients with SVR compared to non-responder and relapser patients (p < 0.001). Interestingly, relapser patients exhibited an intermediate serum HCV-RNA decay during the first 4 weeks of therapy.
Among HCV patients treated with PEG-IFN and ribavirin, the absence of RVR was the most important independent predictor of relapse, independent of the HCV genotype. In the subgroup of genotypes 2 and 3 patients, the severity of fibrosis was also an important factor associated with the relapse rate.