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Keywords:

  • chronic hepatitis;
  • hepatitis C virus;
  • ribavirin

Ribavirin is a purine nucleoside that inhibits the replication of a variety of RNA viruses and was shown to have a transient efficacy in chronic hepatitis C during short-term therapy. We have analysed retrospectively its efficacy in 95 patients with liver biopsy-proven chronic hepatitis C. Patients received oral ribavirin (600–1200mg daily) for a mean duration of 11 months. Alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels returned to normal values in 38 patients (40%) and decreased by more than 50% in 20 other patients (21%). HCV RNA clearance from serum was observed in seven patients (8%). The biochemical response rate was higher in patients with chronic hepatitis (54%) than in those with cirrhosis (24%) (P=0.003). Clearance of HCV RNA was observed in 10% of the patients with chronic hepatitis vs 4% of the patients with cirrhosis. In non-responders to interferon (IFN) therapy, ALT levels returned to normal values in 11 (26%) and HCV RNA became negative in one (2%), as compared to 48% and 3%, respectively, in those contraindicated for IFN. In 17 patients in whom paired liver biopsy specimens were available, the histology activity index (HAI) improved in 12. Therapy was generally well tolerated although 11 patients had to stop therapy because of side-effects, which were more common in cirrhotic patients. In conclusion, our results suggest that long-term administration of ribavirin is well tolerated and may be beneficial in controlling the progression of chronic hepatitis C. This may represent an alternative therapy in patients who have contraindications for interferon therapy or as a palliative approach in non-responders to IFN.