Interferon in hepatitis

Interferon is used to treat both hepatitis B and hepatitis C. The dose of interferon and duration of treatment is different in each condition. Inteferon is only given by injection: it is not available in pill form.

Interferon is given at high dose for four months in treating hepatitis B.

In hepatitis B, interferon is used at a fairly high dose for 16 weeks. The drug is usually given either as 10 million units 3 times a week, or 5 million units 6 days a week. Remission rates of up to 60% have been reported in hepatitis B. Recently, another drug, lamivudine or 3-TC, has been used in persons with hepatitis B.

For hepatitis C, interferon is given at low doses for a year or longer.

In hepatitis C, interferon has generally been used at lower doses for longer periods of time. A typical dosing scheme for Peg-Intron, one of the long-acting interferons, 1.5 mcg/kg injected once weekly for 6 months to a year. When combined with ribavirin, long-acting inteferon results in resolution of hepatitis C in about half of all persons treated. v So far, no widely successful therapy of hepatitis C that is not based on interferon has been reported, although hepatitis C is an active area of research by many pharmaceutical companies.

Depression is a major side effect of interferon treatment.

The side effects of interferon are numerous, but the majority of people manage to complete therapy without loss of work or other major interruption. Nevertheless, about 1/5 of persons, in my experience, experience significant side effects, and about 1/10 of perons are unable to complete the treatment. The most serious side effects are psychological and include depression and irritability. Depression can be severe enough to lead to suicide. Other side effects include thinning of hair, which usually grows back once interferon is stopped; rashes, which usually subside during treatment; thyroid disorders; and fevers, headaches and muscle pains, which generally are prominent for the first few doses and then become less of a problem. There are also other, rarer side effects which may or may not be caused by the drug. Treatment with interferon requires careful monitoring of blood work, and any depressive symptoms should be taken very seriously. Dosage adjustments during treatment are very common.

No one manufacturer's interferon is convincingly superior to another's.

Several different pharmaeutical firms manufacture or distribute interferon. There are some differences among the interferons, but no one manufacturer's interferon is known to be definitely superior to another. The major long-acting interferons sold today include

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