Forty two cases of confirmed hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection with available liver histology were studied. Most patients, 23 of 42 (55%) had abnormal liver function tests but 19 of 42 (45%) had persistently normal liver transaminases (mean aspartate transaminase (AST) 24.1 IU/l, mean follow up 10 months). Histological examinations in the group with normal AST activities were normal in two of 19 (11%), showed non-specific reactive hepatitis in eight of 19 (42%), chronic persistent hepatitis in six of 19 (31%), and chronic active hepatitis in three of 19 (16%). Twenty three of 42 (55%) had either persistently or temporary raised liver transaminases (mean AST 96.2 IU/l, mean follow up 16 months). Histological examinations in this second group with abnormal liver biochemistry showed reactive hepatitis in five of 23 (22%), chronic persistent hepatitis in six of 23 (26%), chronic active hepatitis in 10 of 23 (43%), and cirrhosis in two (9%). Average alcohol intake was significantly higher in the group within abnormal liver function (17.8 v 6.4 units, p = 0.01). Although serious pathology was more frequent in the abnormal transaminase group, significant liver pathology (chronic persistent hepatitis or chronic active hepatitis) was found in nine of 19 (47%) of cases with repeatedly normal transaminases. Liver biopsy is advised in all cases of chronic hepatitis C infection to accurately assess both the degree of fibrosis and the current activity of the disease.
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