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Dig Dis Sci. 2001 Aug;46(8):1677-83.

Serum HCV RNA levels correlate with histological liver damage and concur with steatosis in progression of chronic hepatitis C.

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Institute of Medical Therapy, Faculty of Medicine, Second University of Naples, Italy.


The role of HCV RNA levels and host factors in the severity of liver injury was studied. Enrolled were 298 consecutive liver biopsy-proven chronic hepatitis (CH) C patients (179 men; median age: 52 years, range 19-68; CH, 198; cirrhosis, 100) and 18 chronic hepatitis C with normal ALT. HCV genotypes were: 1a, 4.3%; 1b, 53%; 2a/c, 28%; 3a, 7%; 4, 1.3%, and mixed 6.4%. Serum HCV RNA levels were similar for all genotypes (median: 2.8 x 10(6) eq/ml; range <0.2-69). In patients with chronic hepatitis without cirrhosis, the serum HCV RNA levels reflected the grade of liver necroinflammatory activity (R = 0.45; P < 0.001) and the stage of fibrosis (R = 0.51; P < 0.001), regardless of age, gender, HCV genotype, hepatic steatosis, and hepatic iron overload. Patients with high serum HCV RNA levels (> or =3 x 10(6) eq/ml) had higher ALT values (P < 0.002) than those with lower HCV RNA levels. Patients with normal ALT showed low HCV RNA levels (median: 0.82 x 10(6) eq/ml) and histological features of minimal or mild chronic hepatitis. Cirrhotic patients showed significantly lower levels of viremia than those with chronic hepatitis with a similar HAI. The data of a subgroup of 62 patients with an established time of infection showed that for a similar duration of disease, patients with serum HCV RNA levels > or =3 x 10(6) eq/ml had a significantly higher fibrosis score than those with lower levels. HAI and fibrosis score were significantly higher in patients with HCV RNA levels > or =3 x 10(6) eq/ml and grade 3-4 steatosis than those with lower HCV RNA levels and steatosis grades. The data indicate that the liver damage is correlated with the HCV RNA levels and that a high viral load acts together with steatosis in accelerating the progression of liver injury.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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