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Summary

Background : Treatment with interferon-alpha has been shown to be effective in one-third of hepatitis B e antigen-positive chronic hepatitis B patients, but is clinically associated with relevant adverse events.

Aim : To investigate the safety of pegylated interferon alpha-2b in 300 hepatitis B e antigen-positive patients with compensated liver disease.

Methods : Patients were treated with pegylated interferon alpha-2b for 52 weeks combined with either lamivudine 100 mg/day or placebo. Pegylated interferon alpha-2b was administered for 100 μg once a week for 32 weeks; thereafter, the dose was reduced to 50 μg once a week. Adverse events and their effect on study medication were reported at monthly visits in a standardized way.

Results : The most frequently reported side-effects were flu-like syndrome (68%), headache (40%), fatigue (39%), myalgia (29%) and local reaction at the injection site (29%). These symptoms typically occurred within the first month of therapy and subsided during the course of therapy. Neutropenia and thrombocytopenia induced by pegylated interferon alpha-2b increased the risk of infections and bleeding complications, but these complications were rare and mild. The frequency of all side-effects was not different between patients treated with pegylated interferon alpha-2b combined with lamivudine or placebo. In 69 (22%) patients the dose of pegylated interferon alpha-2b was reduced prematurely. Of these dose reductions, 36 (52%) were because of neutropenia. Therapy was discontinued in 28 (8%) patients. The most frequent reasons for early discontinuation were psychiatric side-effects (depression, psychosis) and flu-like symptoms. Multivariate Cox regression analysis showed that low neutrophil count at baseline and cirrhosis were independent predictors of dose reduction or therapy discontinuation.

Conclusion : We conclude that in patients with chronic hepatitis B and compensated liver disease prolonged pegylated interferon alpha-2b therapy is safe, and that pre-existent cirrhosis and neutropenia are the most important predictors of dose reduction or early treatment discontinuation.