Depression caused by common treatment for hepatitis C may affect outcome

ATLANTAAn article appearing in the January 2005 issue of Brain, Behavior and Immunity suggests that developing depression while on interferon-alpha plus ribavirin may impact how well the medications work.

In a study conducted in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University School of Medicine, Charles L. Raison, MD, Andrew Miller, MD, and colleagues, observed that patients who develop depressive symptoms during interferon-alpha plus ribavirin therapy were significantly less likely to have cleared the hepatitis C virus from their blood following six months of treatment.

"Hepatitis C infection affects three to five million Americans, and is the leading cause of liver transplantation," said Dr. Raison. "With advances in treatment, 40-50 percent of patients can be cleared of the virus. Unfortunately, however, the current treatment for hepatitis C interferon-alpha plus ribavirin produces a high rate of psychiatric side effects that have long been recognized as impediments to successful antiviral therapy. In the past we primarily worried that depression interfered with quality of life, or would cause patients to stop taking the medicine. These new data suggest that even if patients stay on treatment, they are less likely to have a good outcome if they develop depression."

The study examined 103 participants who received pegylated interferon-alpha-2b plus ribavirin (PEG IFN/ribavirin). All participants were psychiatrically evaluated prior to initiation of the medication and at 4, 8, 12 and 24 weeks of PEG IFN/ribavirin treatment.

Only 34% of the patients who had a significant increase in depression cleared the hepatitis C virus from their blood at 24 weeks, as compared to 59%-69% of patients with milder increases in depression. The effect of depression on viral clearance persisted even after adjusting for factors known to affect treatment outcome, such as viral genotype, or whether medications had to

Contact: Kathi Baker
Emory University Health Sciences Center

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