For the 30-50% of patients with chronic hepatitis C who do not respond to alpha-interferon therapy there is no alternative treatment. Some previously untreated patients have shown a biochemical response to ribavirin, but the antiviral effects of this substance on alpha-interferon-resistant cases is largely unknown.
Twelve patients with chronic hepatitis C who had not responded to a 6-12 month course of alpha-interferon were included in this study. Oral ribavirin was administered at a dose of 16 mg/kg per day for 6 or 9 months. Aminotransferase levels had not significantly changed during interferon therapy but decreased significantly during ribavirin treatment (mean alanine aminotransferase at baseline, 102 +/- 18 IU/l vs. 55 +/- 14 IU/l at 6 months; P = 0.0001). Aminotransferase levels became normal in 6 cases (50%), significantly decreased in 3 patients (25%), and did not significantly change in the remaining 3 cases (25%). All patients with normalized aminotransferase values relapsed after ribavirin was discontinued and aminotransferase activity returned to pretreatment levels. Before therapy serum hepatitis C virus RNA was detected by polymerase chain reaction in 10 cases. None of them had cleared viral RNA when tested following 3, 6 and 9 months of ribavirin therapy.
Side-effects were mild and reversible. In conclusion, about half of the patients with chronic hepatitis C who are unresponsive to alpha-interferon show a clear-cut biochemical response after 6-9 months of ribavirin administration. However, ribavirin does not clear circulating hepatitis C virus RNA and relapses occur after withdrawal.
CITATION J Hepatol. 1993 Nov;19(3):408-12