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Keywords:

  • chronic viral hepatitis;
  • corticosteroid hepatitis B virus;
  • hepatitis C virus;
  • hepatitis delta virus;
  • interferon.

ABSTRACT

Hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV) and hepatitis delta virus (HDV) are associated with clinically significant chronic infection that may lead to the development of cirrhosis or even hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Intervention at the earliest possible stage is needed to prevent such untoward sequelae. Currently, interferon (IFN) is the only approved and widely used agent for the treatment of these infections, including in HBV patients with precore mutant hepatitis or decompensated cirrhosis, but its efficacy is far from satisfactory. Corticosteroid priming has been shown to increase the efficacy of IFN therapy in HBV patients with low abnormal serum transaminase levels, but only a few responders will clear serum hepatitis Bs antigen (HBsAg). Ongoing randomized controlled trials of thymosin α1, lamivudine and famcyclovir have demonstrated encouraging preliminary results. Therapeutic vaccines, such as polypeptides with human leucocyte antigen (HLA)-specific hepatitis B core antigen (HBcAg) epitopes, are under phase II/III clinical trial. For HDV infection, the use of IFN in the early phase of acute superinfection tends to prevent chronic progression. For HCV infection, IFN used at higher doses for a longer period of time is associated with a higher sustained response, but overall it is still not satisfactory. The combined use of ribavirin or corticosteroid priming may improve the effect of IFN therapy by enhancing the durability of the response. Interferon in the acute phase of HCV infection may also prevent chronic progression. There is evidence to suggest that IFN therapy, when associated with response, tends to reduce the risk of cirrhosis or HCC and prolongs survival. There is no doubt that satisfactory treatment of chronic viral infection will require more effective agents and demand optimal treatment strategies, many of which are yet to be found.