Background & Aims: Peginterferon (PegIFN) remains the backbone of therapy for chronic hepatitis C (CHC) in economically constrained regions. However, PegIFN may cause neutropenia and addition of a protease inhibitor can increase the likelihood of neutropenia. The aims of this study were to assess the occurrence of clinically relevant infections during first-generation protease inhibitor based therapy and its risk factors as well as the relation to treatment-induced neutropenia.

Methods: This multicenter (n=45) retrospective cohort study included CHC patients treated in the Netherlands. Based on absolute neutrophil count, categories of neutropenia were defined as: severe (<500/μL), moderate (500-750/μL) and mild (750-1500/μL). Likewise, infections were classified as severe (intravenous antibiotics/ hospitalization) and moderate (anti-infective treatment). We assessed risk factors for infections using multivariable regression analysis adjusting for multiple measurements.

Results: We included 467 CHC patients, 319 (68%) were male and 111 (24%) had cirrhosis. A total of 185 clinically relevant infections (34 severe) occurred in 145 patients (31%). During treatment 310 patients experienced neutropenia (severe, n=34). Multivariable analysis identified female sex (OR 1.7, 95%CI 1.2- 2.5), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (OR 2.7, 95%CI 1.6- 4.5) and diabetes mellitus (OR 1.7, 95%CI 1.0-3.0) as risk factors for infections. Neutropenia at the previous visit was not associated with infection (univariable analysis: OR 0.9, 95%CI 0.6-1.3).

Conclusion: This study shows that therapy with first generation protease inhibitors was complicated by an infection in 31% of patients. Not neutropenia, but female sex, COPD and diabetes mellitus were independent risk factors for infection. These patients should be monitored carefully once a PegIFN regimen is initiated.

Abbreviations: ANC: absolute neutrophil count; CHC: chronic hepatitis C; COPD: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; DAAs: direct acting antivirals; DM: diabetes mellitus; HCV: hepatitis C virus; PegIFN: pegylated interferon alpha; PI: protease inhibitor; UTI: urinary tract infection.


antiviral agents, boceprevir, telaprevir, hepatitis C infection, neutropenia, risk factors