BOSTON (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS)Direct-acting antiretroviral therapies are safe and well tolerated in hepatitis C virus patients with comorbid psychiatric conditions, a study showed.

The finding that sustained virologic response (SVR) rates at 1 year were similar in genotype 1 HCV patients with and without psychiatric comorbidities could help end the stigma against treating this patient subgroup, stemming from when treatment with interferon risked psychiatric decompensation. That’s according to nurse practitioner Anne Moore, winner of this year’s Poster of Distinction Award at the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases annual meeting.

“We know that DAAs (direct-acting antiretrovirals) aren’t necessarily associated with psychiatric decompensation, but I noticed that providers are still unwilling to treat [these patients],” said Ms. Moore in an interview. She said she has been working with patients infected with the hepatitis C virus since 1983. Ms. Moore, who is based in Phoenix, practices at Dignity Health , a large hospital network in the Southwest.

She and her colleagues reviewed patient records for 588 adults diagnosed with genotype 1 HCV in Arizona between 2013 and 2016. They found 389 patients who’d been treated with either a combination of sofosbuvir and ledipasvir (with or without ribavirin) or sofosbuvir and simeprevir. Patients coinfected with HIV were included in this group; those who’d had a liver transplant were not. Just over three-quarters of the patients were white, 60% were male, 10% were Hispanic, and the average age was 59 years. A third of the patients had been diagnosed with cirrhosis.

Because medical and mental health records typically are not integrated, Ms. Moore and her colleagues instead used medical records to evaluate which medications had been prescribed, in order to determine likely psychiatric diagnoses. They determined that 27% of the 389 patients had a comorbid psychiatric diagnosis. Of these, 68% had depression and 28% had anxiety. Only one person was considered to have bipolar disorder; Ms. Moore said it was possible this group was underrepresented in the study, but that some persons considered to have depression might have had bipolar disorder instead.

Rates of SVR at 1 year were similar across the study – 82.3% in those without a comorbid psychiatric diagnosis vs. 79.4% of those who did have one – with no additional risk of patients with psychiatric diagnoses being lost to follow-up. DAA therapy was well tolerated in both groups.

Ms. Moore said that winning the award was a “huge surprise” but interpreted it to mean that liver specialists are struggling to find the best treatment algorithms for HCV, partly because of the number of restrictions often placed by payers on access to DAAs, but also because it is often difficult to know who will adhere to treatment.

“Gastroenterologists and hepatologists are not used to dealing with patients who have psychiatric conditions. They don’t understand them well, and so there is a reluctance to ‘go there.’ If that’s what has been holding you back, it doesn’t have to. You can treat these patients successfully,” Ms. Moore said.

She had no relevant financial disclosures.

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