"Adding ribavirin to any type of interferon should be considered the treatment of choice for patients with hepatitis C," conclude Jesper Brok, M.D., and colleagues at Copenhagen University Hospital.
However, the authors caution that only one in four patients treated with the combination therapy actually had a sustained response.
The researchers reviewed 72 randomized trials and 9,991 patients who had chronic hepatitis C for more than six months and were previously untreated, who had relapsed after treatment or who had not responded to other treatment.
The review appears in the current issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates medical research. Systematic reviews draw evidence-based conclusions about medical practice after considering both the content and quality of existing medical trials on a topic.
Hepatitis C is inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). It is transmitted primarily by blood-to-blood contact through a variety of means such as sexual contact, intravenous drug use and needle stick accidents. The disease progresses slowly over 10 to 30 years, causing inflammation and severe scarring of the liver. If untreated, it can lead to liver failure, liver cancer and death.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 170 million people worldwide are infected with HCV, and in the United States, alcoholic liver disease and chronic hepatitis C are the leading causes of cirrhosis. An additional estimated 25,000 new cases of HCV occur in the United States each year.