Researchers Identify Better Hepatitis C Treatment for People with HIV

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The preferred treatment for hepatitis C, peg-interferon and ribavirin, is safe for people who are also infected with HIV, according to a new study in the July 29 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine. Moreover, this treatment proved superior for the treatment of hepatitis C virus (HCV) in HIV-coinfected persons when compared with the previously accepted treatment, standard interferon and ribavirin.

The study compared the effectiveness of two forms of interferon: a once-weekly dose of peg-interferon and standard interferon taken three times weekly. Peg-interferon with ribavirin is currently the approved treatment for hepatitis C in persons without HIV. Prior to this study, limited data were available on the benefit and safety of peg-interferon and ribavirin in HIV-infected people.

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"We are pleased to see such a clear and definitive result from this study," NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. said. "Just a decade ago treatment of HCV in persons infected with HIV was not a priority because they died from AIDS before developing serious complications of hepatitis C infection. As new anti-HIV drug treatments extend the lives of HIV-positive individuals, studies like this one provide essential guidance on treating other serious health problems affecting people living with HIV."

HCV is primarily spread through infected blood. Most people with the virus have no signs of illness, but in some the infection progresses to chronic liver disease, liver failure or liver cancer. The disease progresses more rapidly in people who have HIV. It is estimated that of the 1 million HIV-infected Americans, about 300,000 are also infected with HCV. HCV infects approximately 25,000 Americans annually and is responsible for 8,000 to 10,000 deaths per year.

The 133 HIV-positive study volunteers were randomly assigned to take peg-interferon or interferon for 48 weeks. All study volunteers also took ribavirin, an antiviral drug that is also part of standard therapy for hepatitis C. Study volunteers who completed the treatments

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