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    Help Available for Depression Triggered by Interferon

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    Meenhard Herlyn, DSci, of Philadelphia's Wistar Institute, says that more patients might agree to take high-dose interferon therapy if it could be made less physically difficult.

    "Anything you can do to reduce the side effects of interferon would be a big help," Herlyn says. "Many people have to stop the treatment because they can't handle it."

    People with hepatitis C also are treated with interferon infusions combined with the drug Virazole.

    Though it's likely that many of these patients become depressed from interferon, few studies have documented how widespread the problem may be. The CDC says nearly 4 million Americans are infected with hepatitis C, a liver disease transmitted from one person to another through exposure to blood or blood products.

    Miller's next study will look at whether Paxil can reduce depression among hepatitis C patients. So far, it seems to be working, he says.

    Hepatitis C expert Adrian M. Di Bisceglie, MD, tells WebMD he gives antidepressants to patients on interferon therapy at the first sign of a problem. If patients have a history of depression or have experienced depression once before while on interferon, he gives antidepressants before interferon therapy.

    "We started doing this without [research to support it], though," says Di Bisceglie, a professor of internal medicine and chief of hepatology at St. Louis University School of Medicine in Missouri. "It's good to get some science injected into this." But he says the study does not mean that everyone who receives interferon needs to be pretreated with antidepressants.

    While it looks as though Paxil has a similar potential to reduce depression in hepatitis C patients, the drug has sexual side effects that could become an issue for people living with a chronic disease like hepatitis than for those trying to get through cancer treatment.

    "It hasn't come up as yet, but it might, and then, of course, we might think about using other antidepressants that might have a little bit better profile as far as sexual function," Miller says.

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