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How Mild Hepatitis C Unfolds

Study tracks progression of disease

THURSDAY, Feb. 12, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- One in three people with mild hepatitis C infection will experience rapid worsening of the condition, says a study in the current issue of Gut.

It's especially likely to occur in people who are older when first infected with hepatitis C, and people who already have some inflammation and scar tissue (fibrosis) in their liver when they're diagnosed with the infection.

The study included 214 people with hepatitis C. Their average age was 36. Samples of their liver tissue were collected to monitor the progression of their infection.

One in two of the study participants admitted to previous use of intravenous drugs and nearly one in four had received transfusions of infected blood products -- both major transmission routes for hepatitis C.

At the first biopsy, the average fibrosis score (Ishak score) for the group of patients was 3 and most had scores of 6 or less. Scores of up to 6 denote mild disease. Within 30 months, the fibrosis score had increased by one or more points in a third of the patients and by two or more points in 10 percent of the patients.

Older age at infection -- rather than length of infection -- and degree of inflammation and scarring at the first biopsy were factors that influenced disease progression, the study says.

Unlike previous research, this study found gender, alcohol consumption, virus type and other indicators of poor liver function did not seem to affect the rate of disease progression.

The study authors conclude that even mild hepatitis C infection is a progressive disease and infected people will likely require a large degree of health care as they age.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about hepatitis C.

SOURCE: BMJ Specialist Journals, news release, Feb. 12, 2004
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