Background About 170 million patients worldwide have chronic hepatitis C. Pegylated interferon plus ribavirin is currently the recommended therapy.
Aim To evaluate the beneficial and harmful effects of pegylated interferon plus ribavirin vs. interferon plus ribavirin for chronic hepatitis C infection.
Methods We searched The Cochrane Library, MEDLINE, EMBASE, LILACS, Science Citation Index Expanded and contacted pharmaceutical companies and authors of trials (to March 2005).
Results We included 18 randomized clinical trials with 4811 patients. Eleven trials (61%) had allocation bias risks and all had assessment bias risk because of lack of blinding. Compared with interferon plus ribavirin, pegylated interferon plus ribavirin had significant beneficial effects on sustained virological response [risk ratio (RR): 0.80; 95% CI: 0.74–0.88]. Data were insufficient to determine impact on long-term outcomes. Pegylated interferon plus ribavirin significantly increased dose reductions (RR: 1.44; 95% CI: 1.14–1.82) and adverse events including neutropenia (RR: 2.25; 95% CI: 1.58–3.21), thrombocytopenia (RR: 2.28; 95% CI: 1.14–4.54), arthralgia (RR: 1.19; 95% CI: 1.05–1.35), and injection-site reaction (RR: 2.56; 95% CI: 1.06–6.22).
Conclusions Pegylated interferon plus ribavirin compared with interferon plus ribavirin increased the proportion of patients with sustained virological response, but at the cost of more adverse events.