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Volume 34, Number 4, December 2001

Hepatitis C virus infection: an overview

Shinn-Jang Hwang
Department of Family Medicine, Taipei Veterans General Hospital and School of Medicine, National Yang-Ming University, Taiwan, ROC



Hepatitis C virus is an RNA virus belonging to the Flaviviridae family. The diagnosis of hepatitis C virus infection was based on the detection of serum antibody to hepatitis C virus (anti-HCV) using immunoassay or recombinant immunoblot assay, or the direct detection of serum hepatitis C virus RNA using polymerase chain reaction. The anti-HCV positive rate in the general population or healthy blood donors is 0.5% to 4% worldwide. Parenteral transmission was the major route of hepatitis C virus infection. High-risk groups for hepatitis C virus infection included recipients of blood transfusion of which the blood donors were not screened for anti-HCV, intravenous drug abusers, hemophiliacs, and patients who have received hemodialysis. More than 80% of patients with hepatitis C virus infection progressed into chronicity, 20% to 30% of patients with chronic hepatitis C progressed to cirrhosis after 10 to 20 years of follow-up, and some developed hepatocellular carcinoma. Hepatitis C virus was the most common cause of chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma in Western countries and in Japan, where hepatitis B virus is not endemic. Interferon therapy at a dosage of 3 MU and subcutaneous injection 3 times per week for 6 months normalized serum transaminase in 50% of patients with chronic hepatitis C at the end of treatment. However, the relapse rate was high and only 20% to 25% of patients sustained response 1 year after discontinuing therapy. Prolonged interferon therapy up to 12 to 18 months has been suggested to improve interferon efficacy by decreasing the relapse rate and thus increasing the sustained response rate. New interferon preparation such as consensus interferon and long-acting pegylated-interferon has recently shown better treatment response than the traditional interferon regimen. The combined regimen of interferon and ribavirin was shown to have better efficacy than interferon alone in treating patients with chronic hepatitis C.



J Microbiol Immunol Infect 2001;34:227-234.