A sustained virologic response (SVR) in patients with chronic hepatitis C receiving pegylated interferon (PEG-IFN) plus ribavirin is defined as undetectable serum HCV-RNA at 24 weeks (W+24) posttreatment follow-up. Viral load outcome in patients with virological relapse (VR) has not been explored. This study evaluated whether the assessment of serum HCV-RNA 12 weeks (W+12) after the end of treatment was as relevant as W+24 to evaluate SVR in 573 patients who received combination PEG-IFN and ribavirin and had a virological response at the end of treatment. Serum HCV-RNA was measured, using a new assay based on transcription-mediated amplification (TMA) with a lowest detection limit of 5-10 IU/mL, at W+12 and W+24 after the end of treatment. VR was defined as reappearance of detectable HCV-RNA at W+24 posttreatment follow-up. The positive predictive value (PPV) of undetectable serum HCV-RNA at W+12 was evaluated to identify patients with SVR, and the viral load outcome was measured in relapse patients. At the W+24 posttreatment follow-up, 408 (71%) patients had an SVR, 181 (71.2%) were treated with PEG-IFNalpha-2a and ribavirin, and 227 (71.1%) were treated with PEG-IFNalpha-2b and ribavirin. At W+12, serum HCV-RNA was undetectable in 409 patients, and 408 patients were SVR (PPV 99.7%, 95% confidence interval 99.1-100). In relapse patients, serum HCV-RNA levels were 5.623 +/- 0.748, 4.979 +/- 0.870, and 5.216 +/- 0.758 log(10) IU/mL at baseline, W+12, and W+24, respectively.
Conclusion: Our results show that the assessment of serum HCV-RNA 12 weeks after the end of treatment, using the highly sensitive TMA assay (PPV 99.7%), is as relevant as after 24 weeks to predict SVR and make decisions on the management of treated patients, suggesting a new definition for SVR.