Post-Treatment Care

Hepatitis C Virus Infection Guideline Committee, December 2017

After treatment for chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, follow-up care is based on individual patient factors, including response to recent treatment, previous treatment history, degree of hepatic fibrosis, comorbidities, and cofactors for other sources of liver injury, such as alcohol use or fatty liver disease.

Evaluating the Response to HCV Treatment

  • Clinicians should perform HCV RNA testing 12 weeks after treatment is complete to verify that a sustained virologic response (SVR) has been achieved. (AI)
  • If SVR is achieved, as established by undetectable HCV RNA at 12 weeks after treatment, clinicians should:
    • Inform their patients that the HCV infection has been cured (AII)
    • Explain the risk of HCV reinfection and that HCV antibodies are not protective against reinfection (AI)
  • To assess for reinfection in patients with ongoing risk factors, clinicians should perform follow-up screening with HCV RNA testing (not HCV antibody testing) at least annually, even with a history of an SVR. (AI) (See Post-Treatment Care for Patients with HIV/HCV Coinfection section of this guideline for more information on patients with coinfection.)
  • If HCV RNA is detectable at 12 weeks after treatment, clinicians should:

All treated individuals should have HCV RNA testing performed 12 weeks after treatment. If there is no detectable HCV RNA at 12 weeks, HCV infection has been cured. In the absence of recurrent risk factors, subsequent HCV testing is not required. However, with late relapse reported in rare (<0.5%) cases, some clinicians may choose to retest at 24 and/or 48 weeks after end of treatment [1].

Successful treatment of chronic HCV infection results in no detectable HCV RNA, but antibodies to HCV are typically retained for life. It is important for treated individuals to understand that they will continue to have antibodies but not active HCV infection. It is also important for patients to understand that, although antibodies to HCV will continue to be present after treatment, HCV antibodies do not offer protection from HCV reinfection. All individuals with no detectable HCV RNA are considered susceptible to reinfection if re-exposed to HCV. While the overall rate of reinfection is low, it is elevated among populations at higher risk [2]. A meta-analysis of 59 studies reporting on recurrence after a sustained viral response (SVR) in 9,049 patients found that the summary 5-year risk of HCV reinfection among high-risk populations was 10.67% [3]. High risk was defined as having one or more risk factors for reinfection (current or former persons who inject drugs [PWID], imprisonment, and men who have sex with men [MSM]). Among low-risk populations, defined as those with no known risk factors, the summary 5-year recurrence risk of was 0.95% [3]. For discussion of risk factors, see the Screening and Diagnosis sections of this guideline.

Post-Treatment Monitoring

  • For patients taking ribavirin (RBV)-containing HCV treatment regimens, clinicians should:
    • Advise female and male patients to take extreme care to avoid pregnancy for 6 months after completion of therapy (AII)
    • Counsel female and male patients on effective contraceptive use (AII)
  • If a woman becomes pregnant within 6 months of completing an RBV-containing HCV treatment, clinicians should discuss with her the risks of using DAAs and RBV during pregnancy. (AIII)

It is important to monitor for the resolution of patients’ HCV treatment-related adverse events. RBV-containing regimens are teratogenic; patients receiving RBV-containing regimens and their partners should be counseled to avoid pregnancy during treatment and up to 6 months post-treatment. Two forms of effective birth control should be used [4].

See Monitoring During DAA Treatment > Table 29: Adverse Events Associated with DAAs for a list of adverse events associated with DAA regimens. During treatment with RBV, patients may experience hemolytic anemia, nausea, cough, shortness of breath, rash, dry skin, pruritus, lactic acidosis, or pancreatitis [4]. Patients should be monitored through the follow-up period for resolution of any symptoms.

Hepatitis B virus (HBV) reactivation: HBV-related hepatic flares have been reported during and after DAA therapy in patients who were not receiving concurrent HBV treatment [5-11]. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a drug safety warning regarding these risks. Although data are insufficient to make a definitive recommendation regarding monitoring in the setting of isolated anti-HBc [12], it is important to consider HBV reactivation as part of the differential diagnosis for patients with HBV infection who experience unexplained increases in liver enzymes either during or after completion of DAA treatment.

Patients with Persistent Liver Disease

  • Clinicians should evaluate patients with persistent abnormal transaminase levels after SVR for other causes of liver disease and consult with a liver disease specialist. (AIII)
  • In patients with underlying bridging fibrosis or cirrhosis, clinicians should screen for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) every 6 months. (AI)

While cessation of the progression of fibrosis and histological improvement are among the benefits of treating chronic HCV infection [13,14], patients should still be monitored for potential risk of post-treatment decompensation [1].

Individuals in whom HCV infection is cured remain at risk of liver disease progression if their baseline fibrosis is sufficiently advanced or if they have comorbidities, such as metabolic syndrome, alcohol use, or uncontrolled coinfection with HIV or HBV or are at risk of liver injury from drugs or dietary supplements [15].

Although there is wide individual variation in the time needed for fibrosis progression to occur in chronic HCV infection, it is important to maintain an elevated level of suspicion for progression of fibrosis and the complications associated with hepatic decompensation, particularly in individuals with long-term chronic HCV infection or comorbidities that would predispose them to faster progression. Transient elastography is not available in all clinical settings, but once it is more widely available, it will aid in monitoring fibrosis progression after HCV treatment.

For patients with bridging fibrosis or cirrhosis, an ultrasound should be performed every 6 months, regardless of SVR, to screen for HCC [1]. The risk of HCC for patients with stage 3 or higher fibrosis is 1.5% to 5% per year, but it is not known whether the histologic improvement after successful treatment mitigates this risk [16].

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