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    Easier Hepatitis B Treatment for Kids

    Pill-Based Treatment Has Fewer Side Effects

    WebMD Health News

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    May 29, 2002 -- A pill used to treat adults with chronic hepatitis B infections may be a cheaper, safer, and more convenient option for treating children with the same condition than the current treatment.

    According to researchers, chronic hepatitis B affects more than 350 million people worldwide. And those who become infected with the virus early in life are most likely to suffer from complications such as cirrhosis or liver cancer. Children with hepatitis B have usually been infected during childbirth from a mother with the infection.

    Children with chronic hepatitis B infection are typically treated with repeated injections of interferon for six months. Although the treatment is generally safe and effective, it can cause side effects such as growth impairment in children, and it doesn't work well in patients with lower concentrations of the hepatitis B virus.

    But a new study, published in the May 30 issue of TheNew England Journal of Medicine, shows a pill-based treatment with the drug lamivudine, which is commonly used to treat adults with chronic hepatitis B infection, works about as well as the more expensive interferon therapy. And lamivudine may also provide a valuable alternative to children who don't respond to conventional treatment.

    Researchers found 23% of the children who were treated with a once-daily oral dose of lamivudine for a year had a good response to the drug, compared with 13% who received a placebo. Side effects were comparable between the two groups, and there were no early indications of potential growth problems in the lamivudine group.

    The study authors say neither approach studied was highly effective, but lamivudine seemed to work better in children who had higher levels of the hepatitis B virus circulating in their bodies.

    Researchers say the 403 children in the study also included some that had not responded at all to interferon treatment. And the 23% response rate found with lamivudine is comparable to the 26% response rate found in other studies with interferon treatment.

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