Heroin abusers are frequently found to have abnormal liver function tests and hepatic histology. Hepatitis viruses A, B, and NANB, other drugs or drug contaminants and excessive alcohol consumption are factors thought to contribute. One hundred and sixteen heroin abusers attending a London treatment centre were studied. Sixty two (53%) had a raised aspartate transaminase. This was not explained by current infection with hepatitis A and B, cytomegalo or Epstein-Barr viruses, excessive alcohol consumption (greater than 80 g/day) or concomitant drug taking. Abnormal liver function tests were as frequent in those with markers of current or past HBV infection as those without and there was evidence that both HBV infection and the cause of the abnormal liver function tests were acquired in the first few years of intravenous drug abuse. Liver biopsies from eight patients showed chronic hepatitis with a mild lobular and portal inflammatory infiltrate, fatty change and prominent sinusoidal cells. Electron microscopy showed cytoplasmic trilaminar tubular structures and dense fused membranes in dilated endoplasmic reticulum. These clinical, biochemical, serological, and histological features would suggest a major role for NANB virus infection in the aetiology of hepatitis in heroin abusers.
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