The researchers determined whether treatment during the acute phase of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection could prevent the development of chronic infection.
The findings of the study were published in the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Between 1998 and 2001, the team identified 44 patients (mean age, 36 years; 25 women) throughout Germany who had acute hepatitis C.
Patients received 5 million U of interferon alfa-2b subcutaneously daily for 4 weeks and then 3 times per week for another 20 weeks.
Serum HCV RNA levels were measured before and during therapy, and 24 weeks after the end of therapy.
Of the patients, 9 became infected with HCV through intravenous drug use, 14 through a needle-stick injury, 7 through medical procedures, and 10 through sexual contact. The mode of infection could not be determined in 4.
|98% of patients had undetectable HCV RNA levels after follow-up.
| New England Journal of Medicine |
The average time from infection to the first signs or symptoms of hepatitis was 54 days, and the average time from infection until the start of therapy was 89 days.
At the end of both therapy and follow-up, 43 patients (98%) had undetectable levels of HCV RNA in serum, and normal serum alanine aminotransferase levels.
Levels of HCV RNA became undetectable after an average of 3.2 weeks of treatment.
Therapy was well tolerated in all but 1 patient, who stopped therapy after 12 weeks because of side-effects.
Dr Elmar Jaeckel, of the Medizinische Hochschule Hannover, Germany, concluded on behalf of the group, "Treatment of acute hepatitis C with interferon alfa-2b prevents chronic infection."