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Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is one of the more important infectious diseases yet to be conquered. An estimated 3.5 million people in the USA have chronic HCV. Each year, 8000 to 10 000 of these chronically infected patients die of a liver-related complication of their infection. The introduction of effective blood screening assays has resulted in a remarkable decrease in the incidence of post-transfusion HCV infection. Nonetheless it is essential to have a treatment programme for chronic HCV disease that prevents the development and the progression of compensated cirrhosis to either decompensated cirrhosis or hepatocellular carcinoma, as many individuals present to the health care system with chronic active hepatitis or cirrhosis. A completely safe and effective treatment strategy for chronic HCV, with or without cirrhosis, remains to be developed. Of the various treatment alternatives currently available, only interferon (IFN) has been evaluated extensively. IFN therapy has been shown to induce remissions of the hepatic inflammatory process and also to eliminate the viral infection in some treated cases. As a result, the selection of patients for treatment and the dose and the duration of therapy with IFN are still controversial issues. It is widely held that cirrhotic individuals do not respond to IFN therapy and that treatment of decompensated cirrhotic individuals with HCV infection is dangerous. Here we review data regarding the available experience with IFN treatment of HCV-positive individuals with cirrhosis and compare the response rates of cirrhotics to those reported for individuals with chronic active HCV.