Hepatitis C is an inflammation of the liver caused by the spherical, enveloped single-strand RNA virus. The World Health Organization estimated 170 million individuals worldwide are infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV). In the U.S., HCV accounts for 20% of all cases of acute (severe and of short duration) hepatitis, an estimated 30,000 new acute infections, and 8000 to 10,000 deaths annually. Chronic (long term) hepatitis C is predominately transmitted by percutaneous (through the skin) exposure to infected blood.
The treatment with most promising results is a combination of pegylated interferon alfa (Pegasys, PEG-Intron) and the antiviral drug, ribavirin (Vitrazole). Interferon alfa is a protein which the human body produces naturally as a defense response to viral infections. Pegylation describes a chemical process that makes the interferon last longer in the body. Interferon increases the potency of ribavirin in the treatment of HCV.
Adding a daily dose of Vitamin D to the regimen of pegylated interferon-alfa 2 and ribavirin might increase the response rates, according to an abstract which was presented at the Liver Meeting 2009, the 60th Annual Meeting of the American Association of the Study of Liver Disease. "This preliminary study confirms the benefit of adding Vitamin D to conventional antiviral therapy in patients with chronic hepatitis C". states lead investigator, Saif M. Abu-Mouch, MD, from the Department of Hepatology, Hillel Yaffe Medical Center in Hadera, Israel. (1)
In the study, 58 patients, the control group, who were diagnosed with HCV, were randomly assigned to the protocol of peginterferon-alfa 2b 1.5 ug/kg once per week and ribavirin 1000 to 2000 mg daily. Thirty-one patients received the same treatment plus Vitamin D 1000 to 4000 IU daily. By the fourth week of treatment, a rapid virological (pertaining to viruses) response was seen in 44% of the patients who received Vitamin D and in 18% of the control group. At the twelfth week of treatment, 96% of the group who received the addition of Vitamin D and 48% of the control group were HCV RNA negative.
"The study is surprising and promising because Vitamin D is something very easy to use and there is no toxicity. It's also interesting that the group treated with Vitamin D had more severe disease than the control group. I think this can be considered a strong result from a small study", commented Laurent Tsakins, MD. who was an attendee of the meeting. (1)
Maryann Gromisch is a registered nurse, who has working on the medical, surgical, and critical care units of a hospital, and with a gastroenterologist in a private practice setting.