Management of hepatitis C

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Chronic hepatitis C is a major health care problem throughout the world. The disease may progress to cirrhosis, with complications such as hepatocellular carcinoma. The usual primary goal of therapy is viral eradication, as patients with long-term remission are generally regarded as unlikely to develop cirrhosis or hepatocellular carcinoma. Another primary goal should be the reduction in liver fibrosis progression. Interferon-α(IFN-α) is the only drug approved for the treatment of hepatitis C in Europe and North America. Its effectiveness appears to be related to dose and duration of therapy. The best efficacy/risk ratio seems to be in favour of 3 million units (MU) IFN-α three times per week on a 12-month schedule. With this regimen, a sustained alanine aminotransferase (ALT) response is achieved in nearly 35% of patients. Ribavirin has emerged as potentially the second most effective drug. While it appears unsatisfactory when given alone, it seems much more effective in combination with IFN. Combining them seems to exert a synergistic effect between the two drugs and sustained remission might be achieved in nearly 50% of patients with combination therapy. Controversy persists concerning the long-term benefit of therapy in transient responders and non-responders. It is possible that IFN therapy, in comparison to natural history, might reduce liver fibrosis progression and prevent hepatocellular carcinoma, even in non-responders, and have greater efficacy if used in long-term treatment. Whatever the treatment schedule, prolonged viral eradication may not be achieved in all patients and new drugs should be sought to improve the results of therapy.

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