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Abstract

Twenty-four patients with chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV), antibody to hepatitis B e antigen (anti-HBe), HBV DNA positivity, and alanine transaminase (ALT) elevation who failed previous interferon alfa (IFN-α) therapy were included in a pilot study of combination therapy with ribavirin and IFN-α. The patients received daily oral ribavirin (1,000-1,200 mg according to body weight) plus 5 million units (MU) IFN-α2b three times a week for 12 months and were followed-up for 12 months. The median viremia level decreased significantly at the end of treatment (1.2 × 103copies/mL) and follow-up (4.0 × 102 copies/mL) compared with the baseline (3.0 × 106 copies/mL; P < .05). After 12 months, 8 of 24 (33%) patients had cleared HBV DNA and 12 (50%) had normal ALT levels. At the end of the study virological and biochemical response was 50% and 21%, respectively. Thus, virological and biochemical response sustained in 5 of 24 (21%) patients retreated with ribavirin and IFN-α; none of them lost hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg). Liver histology improved in 2 of 4 sustained responders but in none of the 12 nonresponders with paired biopsies (P = .05). The response was independent of dose and duration of previous treatment, viral load, or the distribution of HBV precore wild-type/mutant variants. However, sustained responders had significantly higher necroinflammation (P = .036) and fibrosis (P = .007) scores. IFN-α–related side effects were mild and reversible on discontinuation. In 4 (17%) patients who suffered nausea and diarrhea the ribavirin dosage was reduced by 50% after 1 month of therapy and finally discontinued in all of them. No patient had liver disease decompensation. In summary, combination therapy with ribavirin and IFN-α may be efficacious to treat viremic anti-HBe–positive patients with chronic hepatitis B who have failed previous IFN therapy.