Depression caused by common treatment for hepatitis C may affect outcome

January 14, 2005

ATLANTA-An 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 be reduced.

"The findings of this study provide preliminary evidence that baseline mood state should be assessed in patients prior to commencing treatment," said Dr. Raison. "Significant deviations from this state may increase the likelihood of treatment failure. Moreover, these findings provide further support that the development of depression can have a negative impact on health outcomes in medically ill subjects."

Researchers from the Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University and the Department of Medicine, Gasteroenterology and Hepatology, Weill Medical College of Cornell University were also involved in the study. The study was supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health, Schering-Plough, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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Emory University Health Sciences Center

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