The most reliable method of making a specific aetiological diagnosis of chronic viral hepatitis would be to identify virus specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes responsible for the killing of virus infected hepatocytes in each patient's liver. Unfortunately, this can not be proposed for routine diagnosis and surrogate tests are required. The detection of virus markers, and even of the virus itself, does not imply that liver damage is caused by virus infection. Indirect markers of the host's antiviral immunoresponse have to be used to confirm more specifically the diagnosis of viral hepatitis. IgM antibodies against viral antigens implicated in the elimination of the virus seem to be suitable alternative candidates. Significant changes in the serum values of viraemia and aminotransferases occur within a few days, while a significant variation in liver histology takes much longer. Only the kinetics of the highly variable parameters can be used for an appropriate study of the relationship between viraemia, antiviral immunoresponse, and liver cell necrosis. Quantitative and dynamic analyses of hepatitis virus markers seem the most suitable and reliable methods of monitoring the patients eligible for antiviral treatment and identifying the most appropriate time to start this.
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