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Ann Intern Med. 2000 Jan 18;132(2):105-11.

45-year follow-up of hepatitis C virus infection in healthy young adults.

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Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Washington, DC 20422, USA.



The sequelae during the first two decades after acute hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection have been well studied, but the outcome thereafter is unknown.


To conduct an extended study of the natural history of HCV infection by using archived serum specimens originally collected between 1948 and 1954.


Retrospective cohort study.


A university, a Veterans Affairs medical center, and a medical follow-up agency that had access to the serum specimens and accompanying demographic and medical records.


8568 military recruits who were evaluated for group A streptococcal infection and acute rheumatic fever between 1948 and 1954. Blood samples were taken from the recruits and, after testing, were stored frozen for almost 45 years.


The presence of antibodies to HCV was determined by enzyme-linked immunoassay, supplementary recombinant immunoblot assay, and polymerase chain reaction for HCV RNA. Morbidity and mortality were also assessed.


Of 8568 persons, 17 (0.2%) had positive results on enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and recombinant immunoblot assay. The rate was 1.8% among the African-American persons and 0.1% among the white persons in the total sample (relative risk, 25.9 [95% CI, 8.4 to 80.0]). During the 45-year follow-up, liver disease occurred in 2 of the 17 HCV-positive persons (11.8%) and 205 of the 8551 HCV-negative persons (2.4%) (ethnicity-adjusted relative risk, 3.56 [CI, 0.94 to 13.52]). Seven of the 17 HCV-positive persons (41 %) and 2226 of the 8551 HCV-negative persons (26%) had died by December 1996 (ethnicity-adjusted relative risk, 1.48 [CI, 0.8 to 2.6]). Of persons who were HCV-positive, 1 (5.9%) died of liver disease 42 years after the original phlebotomy, 5 (29%) died of non-liver-related disease a median of 37 years after the original phlebotomy, and 1 (5.9%) died of unknown causes. One hundred nineteen HCV-negative persons (1.4%) died of liver disease.


The rate of HCV infection from 1948 to 1954 among a sample of military recruits parallels that among present-day military recruits and volunteer blood donors. During 45 years of follow-up, HCV-positive persons had low liver-related morbidity and mortality rates. This suggests that healthy HCV-positive persons may be at less risk for progressive liver disease than is currently thought.

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