- NEW YORK - Patients
infected with the hepatitis C virus who are otherwise healthy may have
a lower risk of serious liver disease than previously thought, report US
- Previous studies from liver transplant centers suggested
that infection with hepatitis C virus (HCV) was highly likely to result
in cirrhosis, liver failure, or cancer of the liver, though there have
been few long-term studies of HCV patients.
- Now, in a study conducted by Dr. Leonard Seeff from the
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases in Bethesda,
Maryland and colleagues, nearly 9,000 blood samples and medical records
have been examined to determine the outcome of HCV infection in military
recruits tested more than 45 years ago. The results are published in the
January 18th issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.
- Out of 8,568 persons tested, only 34 showed evidence
of HCV, an infection rate of only 0.4%. For reasons that remain unclear,
the authors note, the rate of HCV infection among African Americans was
26 times that of white persons.
- Looking at the medical records of these recruits over
the last 45 years, the investigators found that hospital admission rates
among participants positive for HCV and for those who were HCV negative
were the same. Only one HCV-positive patient had a record of chronic liver
disease and cirrhosis, the report indicates, and there were no HCV-positive
patients with a history of liver cancer.
- Death rates overall were somewhat higher among the HCV-positive
individuals (41%) than among those without HCV (26%), though the average
ages at death were not significantly different, according to the report.
One of the six deaths among HCV-positive persons was from liver disease
(17%), compared to only 6% liver-related deaths among the HCV-negative
- "Despite the relatively small number of HCV-positive
persons identified by our... evaluation," Seeff and colleagues conclude,
"our results indicate that progressive liver disease in persons with
HCV infection is not inevitable." They note that less than 15% of
HCV-positive persons went on to develop chronic liver disease.
- "Future studies should focus on efforts to determine
the additional contributing factors that are associated with progressive
liver disease" in patients infected with HCV, the researchers suggest.