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Management of chronic hepatitis C virus infection: a new era of disease control

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The management of chronic viral hepatitis has changed significantly with the availability of effective antiviral agents. There is now a high probability that timely intervention can arrest development of cirrhosis, thereby preventing mortality from portal hypertension, liver failure and liver cancer. This two-part review discusses the implications of this new era of antiviral therapy for physicians. The present review is about chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV); a similar review that considers the treatment of hepatitis B virus will be published in a later issue of the Internal Medicine Journal. Chronic HCV infection is common, but fibrotic progression of liver disease is slow and variable; many infected persons never develop cirrhosis. Case selection for antiviral therapy is crucial. The most effective therapy is a pegylated (long-acting) interferon with ribavirin. Sustained viral response (SVR) (absent viraemia 6 months after completing treatment) can be obtained in 40−60% of individuals infected with genotype 1 and in approximately 67% with genotype 4 after 12 months of treatment. Response rates are higher (75−85%) with genotypes 2 and 3 after only 6 months of treatment. Late relapse is negligible after SVR. This viral cure reverses hepatic fibrosis, reduces the risk of liver failure and of hepato­cellular carcinoma. Combination therapy requires a supportive setting to minimize the impact of side-effects and maximize therapeutic effectiveness. Overall management of HCV-infected persons must also embrace measures to improve quality of life by preventing or dealing with psychosocial issues and advocating lifestyle changes to counter comorbidity from alcohol, central obesity and insulin resistance. These latter factors favour fibrotic disease progression, complications of cirrhosis (such as hepatocellular carcinoma) and development of type 2 diabetes mellitus, as well as eroding the chances of SVR with antiviral therapy. (Intern Med J 2004; 34: 324−337)

Keywords: cirrhosis; clinical outcome; hepatitis C virus; hepatocellular carcinoma; pegylated interferon; treatment side-effects; type 2 diabetes mellitus; virological monitoring; ­ribavirin

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Storr Liver Unit, Westmead Millennium Institute, University of Sydney at Westmead Hospital, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Publication date: June 1, 2004


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