Treating hepatitis C infection in liver transplant recipients

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Abstract

Chronic infection with hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a growing problem worldwide, with up to 300 million individuals infected, and those with chronic infection are at risk for cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. HCV infection is the most common indication for liver transplantation in the United States and Europe. Unfortunately, although transplantation is effective for treating decompensated cirrhosis and limited hepatocellular carcinoma associated with hepatitis C, HCV reinfection is virtually the rule among transplant recipients. Reinfection of the graft is associated with more rapidly progressive disease, with a median time to cirrhosis of 8 to 10 yr. Unfortunately, treatment of chronic HCV in liver transplant recipients is suboptimal. Combination therapy with interferon (pegylated and nonpegylated forms) plus ribavirin appears to provide maximum benefits. Drug therapy is usually administered for recurrent disease. No prophylactic therapy is available. Preemptive regimens offer no distinctive advantages over treatments begun for recurrent disease. Overall, treatment is poorly tolerated, with frequent need for dose reductions, especially from cytopenias, and drug discontinuations in up to 50% of patients. Optimizing drug doses is important in maximizing sustained virological response rates. Future therapies may include ribavirin alternatives with lower rates of anemia, alternative interferons with lower rates of cytopenias, and new antiviral drugs that can be used alone or in combination with either interferon or ribavirin to enhance sustained virological response rates and improve tolerability. Liver Transpl 12:1192–1204, 2006. © 2006 AASLD.

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