Alpha-interferon therapy in chronic hepatitis due to active dual infection with hepatitis B and C viruses


Correspondence: SkSarin Department of Gastroenterology, GB Pant Hospital, New Delhi 110002, India. Email: <>


Background: Nearly 14% of non-alcoholic chronic liver disease in India is related to hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) dual infection. There are no clear data available from the literature on the therapeutic management of these patients who often suffer an unfavourable course.

Methods: Fourteen consecutive cases of biopsy-proven chronic liver disease fulfilling the following criteria were included: Child’s A or B liver disease, hepatitis B surface antigen positive, HBV-DNA positive, antibody to HCV positive and HCV-RNA positive. Seven patients had chronic liver disease (group I), while the remaining seven patients (group II) had additional disorders (non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (two), acute leukaemia (two), thalassaemia (two), chronic renal failure (one). Interferon alpha-2b (IFN) was given in a dose of 6 MIU thrice weekly for 6 months. Complete response was defined as loss of HBV-DNA and HCV-RNA at 6 months and sustained response (SR) as the sustained loss of HBV-DNA and HCV-RNA for more than 6 months during the follow-up period.

Results: At the end of 6 months, alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels remained unchanged (120 ± 40 vs 136 ± 64 IU/L), but six of the seven (86%) patients in group I lost HBV-DNA. All three hepatitis Be antigen (HBeAg)-positive patients lost HBeAg with an early flare of ALT (at 45 ± 12 therapy days). Two of these patients (29%) lost HCV-RNA. Thus, SR was seen in 29%, while HBV-DNA loss was found in 100% during the follow-up period. In group II patients, there was a significant decrease in ALT (308 ± 14 vs 65 ± 25 IU/L, P < 0.001), but only three (43%) patients lost HBV-DNA and two (29%) lost HCV-RNA. One patient with acute leukaemia and another with renal failure had a complete response to IFN, but none of the lymphoma patients showed any antiviral response.

Conclusions: In chronic hepatitis due to dual infection with HBV and HCV, interferon therapy is: (i) safe; (ii) effective (more so in clearing HBV); (iii) often associated with early ALT flare; and (iv) may be less effective if non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is present.