Hepatitis C drugs are less effective in black patients

Standard drugs for hepatitis C virus are less likely to knock out the infection in black patients than in whites, finds a study in the May 27 New England Journal of Medicine.

Hepatitis C is a liver ailment that afflicts roughly 4 million people in the United States. It often goes unnoticed until it causes cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer.

Researchers gave two antiviral drugs, peginterferon alpha-2b and ribavirin, for 11 months, to 81 black patients and 79 white, non-Hispanic patients with hepatitis C. At the end of the treatment, nearly 75 percent of the white patients no longer had hepatitis C virus detectable in their blood, whereas only 25 percent of the black patients showed no virus.

The drug combination is the best therapy available against the disease, says study coauthor Andrew Muir, a gastroenterologist at the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. More than 90 percent of patients in whom the hepatitis C virus is undetectable after treatment are still free of the virus 10 years later, he says.

Muir and his colleagues speculate that black patients might harbor characteristics in their immune systems that boost harmful inflammation in response to hepatitis C infections and thus hamper the body’s response to the virus.

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