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Ribavirin therapy was initiated at a median of 181 days after liver transplantation in 18 patients with persistent elevation of alanine aminotransferase values and biopsy-proven hepatitis, and continued for 23 months (12-44 months). All patients had a prompt biochemical response, with alanine aminotransferase decreasing by 69%; complete normalization occurred in 5 (28%). Serum hepatitis C virus RNA levels did not change during therapy. Liver biopsies obtained after 17 months (9-38 months) of therapy showed no improvement in necroinflammation. However, worsening of fibrosis occurred in 12 patients; and cirrhosis developed in 5 patients (28%), with 3 patients progressing to graft failure. Biopsies from 27 untreated patients who did not fulfill treatment criteria (median follow-up, 38 months) and 4 patients who received 3 months of ribavirin (44 months) showed cirrhosis in 11 and 75%, respectively. Patient and graft survival rates for treated and untreated patients were similar. Although ribavirin improves alanine aminotransferase, it does not prevent the development or progression of fibrosis in patients with recurrent hepatitis C virus.