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Am J Gastroenterol. 2002 Jul;97(7):1813-20.

Spectrum of disease in U.S. veteran patients with hepatitis C.

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1
Department of Medicine, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis 55417, USA.

Abstract

OBJECTIVE:

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is more prevalent in U.S. veterans attending Veterans Affairs Medical Centers than in the general population. The purpose of this study was to examine the risk factors, psychiatric and substance abuse conditions, and severity of liver disease in veterans with HCV.

METHODS:

The medical records and liver biopsies of 206 consecutive patients with HCV attending a multidisciplinary medical/psychiatric chronic hepatitis clinic and who met eligibility criteria for interferon alpha-2b therapy were reviewed.

RESULTS:

The mean age was 46.5+/-6.8 yr and 77% were Vietnam-era veterans. Risk factors included i.v. drug use (64%), blood transfusion (15%), and cocaine use (9%), and were unknown in 12%. The average estimated duration of disease was 24+/-7.6 yr. A history of alcohol abuse or dependence was identified in 80% of patients. Psychiatric illnesses were present in 60%, the most common being depression and posttraumatic stress disorder. Overall, 89% of patients had documented psychiatric and/or substance abuse diagnoses. Severe fibrosis (stages 3-4) was present in 32% and severe inflammation (grades 2-3) was present in 71% of biopsies. Psychiatric and substance abuse diagnoses did not correlate with severity of liver disease. A total of 145 patients (71%) were prescribed interferon-based treatment. The overall virological sustained response rates were 16% after interferon monotherapy and 28% after interferon/ribavirin therapy. Reasons for not receiving interferon therapy included minimal fibrosis on liver biopsy (37 patients [18%]), worsening medical conditions (nine [4%]), and worsening psychiatric and substance abuse problems (14 [7%]).

CONCLUSIONS:

Advanced fibrosis is common in this cohort of veteran patients with chronic hepatitis C, and the overwhelming majority of these patients have psychiatric and/or substance abuse diagnoses. Despite these comorbidities, the majority received interferon therapies in the context of a multidisciplinary clinic. These data emphasize the importance of hepatitis C care that includes linkage of medical care and psychiatric services.

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