Background and Aims : Decreased alanine aminotransferase (ALT) level is the accepted basic indicator of an interferon (IFN) therapeutic effect in chronic hepatitis C. This study assessed whether delayed normalization of ALT predicts a poor response to a combined therapy of IFN and ribavirin in patients with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection.
Methods: Patients were treated with IFN-α 2b three times weekly and oral ribavirin for 24 weeks. The ALT values were assessed monthly and patterns of changes in ALT activity were analyzed. Serum HCV-RNA was checked at weeks 0, 12, 24, and 48.
Results: A total of 103 patients completed therapy and 69 (67%) of them achieved a sustained viral response (SVR). There was no significant difference in the SVR between patients with or without early normalization (week 12) of ALT level (69 vs 56%). Of the sustained responders, nine patients (13%) with delayed ALT normalization had a SVR. Nine of the 12 patients (75%) with abnormal ALT and negative HCV-RNA at week 12 had a SVR compared with none of four patients who had positive HCV-RNA at week 12 (P = 0.0192).
Conclusions: Lack of normalization of the ALT level at week 12 does not preclude successful virological outcome in hepatitis C patients receiving a combined therapy of IFN and ribavirin. Hepatitis C virus RNA at week 12 may be a useful predictor of treatment outcome in patients without early biochemical response.
© 2002 Blackwell Publishing Asia Pty Ltd