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Abstract

Recurrent hepatitis C is a common problem after liver transplantation that can progress to liver cirrhosis of the graft. Preliminary reports of combination treatment with interferon (IFN) and ribavirin have been promising, but long-term follow-up data are not yet available. We report our experience with 1 year of combination therapy with IFN (3 million units thrice weekly) and low-dose ribavirin (600 mg/d), followed by long-term ribavirin monotherapy in 18 patients with moderate to severe recurrent hepatitis C and a median follow-up of 32 months after the completion of combined therapy. All patients were followed up clinically and histologically at regular intervals. Overall, in an intention-to-treat analysis, 15 patients had normal alanine aminotransferase levels (biochemical end-treatment response [ETR], 83%), and 8 patients were also hepatitis C virus RNA negative in serum (virological ETR, 44%) at the end of combined treatment. At last follow-up after the completion of combined therapy (median, 32 months; range, 18 to 73 months), 13 patients were biochemical responders (biochemical long term-sustained response [LT-SR], 72%), and 5 patients also maintained viral clearance (virological LT-SR, 27%). Comparison of liver biopsy specimens before and after 12 months of combined therapy showed improvement in grading scores of at least two points in the majority of the patients (73%). Notably, a trend toward fibrotic progression was only noted in nonresponders. Regarding side effects, despite the low dose of ribavirn, almost half the patients developed hemolytic anemia requiring dose reductions. In addition, long-term ribavirin monotherapy was not associated with iron accumulation. We conclude that combined therapy with low-dose ribavirin followed by long-term ribavirin monotherapy can be recommended because it favorably modifies the natural history of recurrent hepatitis C in most patients and possibly halts histological disease progression without causing iron accumulation.