Background: Appropriate treatment of acute hepatitis C is still a matter of controversy due to the lack of large controlled trials. Aim: To assess the effectiveness of interferon as treatment for acute hepatitis C by meta-analysis. Methods: MEDLINE search (1985-2002) was supplemented with manual searches of reference lists. Studies were included if they were controlled trials comparing interferon to no treatment and if they included patients with either post-transfusion or sporadic acute hepatitis C. Twelve trials were analyzed (414 patients). The outcome assessed was the sustained virological response (SVR) rate (undetectable hepatitis C virus RNA in serum at least 6 months after cessation of therapy). Results: Interferon significantly increased the SVR (risk difference 49%; 95% confidence interval 32.9-65%) in comparison to no treatment. The risk difference of SVR increased from 5 to 90% when trials were ordered by increasing interferon weekly dose. Delaying therapy by 8-12 weeks after the onset of disease does not compromise the SVR rate. Conclusions: Current evidence is sufficient to recommend interferon treatment of patients with acute hepatitis C. A later initiation of therapy yields the same likelihood of response as early treatment. A daily induction dose during the 1st month is the best option of treatment. © 2003 European Association for the Study of the Liver. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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