Men taking the antiviral drugs peginterferon and ribavirin for chronic hepatitis C virus infection often experience sexual dysfunction, results of a study indicate.

This drug combination, which is standard therapy for chronic hepatitis C, has the potential to impact all three components of sexual health: desire, function and satisfaction, the researchers found.

Men planning to receive peginterferon and ribavirin should be counseled about the possibility of a decline in sexual health during treatment and receive adequate support if these side effects occur, Dr. Lorna M. Dove of New York Presbyterian Medical Center and colleagues suggest in the journal Gastroenterology.

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne infectious disease that is often without symptoms and can cause inflammation of the liver, cirrhosis, and in extreme cases, liver cancer. It is usually contracted through transfusions of unscreened blood, or by injecting or inhaling drugs.

Chronic hepatitis C affects 1 percent to 2 percent of the American population and is more common among African Americans than Caucasian Americans and other racial and ethnic groups in the U.S.

The sexual health of men with chronic hepatitis C before, during, and after combination therapy has not been well studied, Dove and colleagues note.

The current study shows that impairments in sexual function and desire are common side effects of this therapy in men, and these effects are not always completely reversed after therapy is stopped.

As part of a large study, 260 men treated with peginterferon and ribavirin completed questionnaires about sexual health before, during and after therapy.

Prior to treatment, 37 percent reported mild impairment in their sex drive, 26 percent reported erectile dysfunction, 22 percent reported ejaculation trouble, and 44 percent reported dissatisfaction with their sex life.

By the end of therapy at either 24 or 48 weeks, 38 percent to 48 percent of men reported that their lower sexual function was worse than before treatment. African American men reported less impairment overall than Caucasian American men during treatment.

For patients who stopped therapy at 24 weeks, sexual health returned to near normal within 6 months of the end of treatment, the researchers found.

Relative to before treatment, men receiving treatment for 48 weeks reported higher erectile and ejaculation problems, although persistent erectile impairment was limited to Caucasian American men.

SOURCE: Gastroenterology, September 2009.