Background: The natural history of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection remains uncertain. Previous data concerning rates of progression are from studies using estimated dates of infection and single liver biopsy scores. We prospectively studied the rate of progression of fibrosis in HCV infected patients by repeat liver biopsies without intervening treatment.
Patients: We studied 214 HCV infected patients (126 male; median age 36 years (range 5–8)) with predominantly mild liver disease who were prospectively followed without treatment and assessed for risk factors for progression of liver disease. Interbiopsy interval was a median of 2.5 years. Paired biopsies from the same patient were scored by the same pathologist.
Results: Seventy of 219 (33%) patients showed progression of at least 1 fibrosis point in the Ishak score; 23 progressed at least 2 points. Independent predictors of progression were age at first biopsy and any fibrosis on first biopsy. Factors not associated with progression were: necroinflammation, duration of infection, alcohol consumption, alanine aminotransferase levels, current or past hepatitis B virus infection, ferritin, HCV genotype, and steatosis or iron deposition in the initial biopsy.
Conclusions: One third of patients with predominantly mild hepatitis C showed significant fibrosis progression over a median period of 30 months. Histologically, mild hepatitis C is a progressive disease. The overall rate of fibrosis progression in patients with hepatitis C was low but increased in patients who were older or had fibrosis on their index biopsy. These data suggest that HCV infection will place an increasing burden on health care services in the next 20 years.
- hepatitis C virus
- hepatic fibrosis
- HCV, hepatitis C virus
- HBV, hepatitis B virus
- HBsAg, hepatitis B surface antigen
- anti-HBc, anticore hepatitis B antibody
- ALT, aminotransferase
- IVDU, intravenous drug use
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