Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is a major health problem in patients with end-stage renal disease (ESRD). The incidence of acute HCV infection during maintenance dialysis is much higher than that in the general population because of the risk of nosocomial transmission. Following acute HCV infection, most patients develop chronic HCV infection, and a significant proportion develop chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis, and even hepatocellular carcinoma. Overall, chronic hepatitis C patients on hemodialysis bear an increased risk of liver-related morbidity and mortality, either during dialysis or after renal transplantation.
Interferon (IFN) therapy is modestly effective for the treatment of HCV infection in ESRD patients. Conventional or pegylated IFN monotherapy has been used to treat acute hepatitis C in ESRD patients with excellent safety and efficacy. Regarding chronic hepatitis C, approximately one-third of patients can achieve a sustained virological response (SVR) after conventional or pegylated IFN monotherapy. The combination of low-dose ribavirin and conventional or pegylated IFN has further improved the SVR rate in treatment-na�ve or retreated ESRD patients in clinical trials. Similar to the treatment of patients with normal renal function, baseline and on-treatment HCV virokinetics are useful to guide optimized therapy in ESRD patients.
Of particular note, IFN-based therapy is not recommended at the post-renal transplantation stage because of the low SVR rate and risk of acute graft rejection. In conclusion, ESRD patients with HCV infection should be encouraged to receive antiviral therapy, and those who achieve an SVR usually have long-term, durable, virological, biochemical, and histological responses.