Hepatitis C is histologically active and progressive in up to 40 percent of asymptomatic persons infected with the virus, according to a study reported in the Dec. 17th issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Until now, the prevalence of significant liver disease in persons with asymptomatic hepatitis C virus had been unclear. Knowing the extent to which silent liver damage exists in HCV-infected people who exhibit no symptoms could help doctors determine how aggressive they need to be when examining people who appear healthy for the infection.
The researchers studied 4,820 apparently healthy Telecom Italy employees or their relatives who underwent screening for cardiovascular risk factors. Of those, 85 tested positive for HCV in their blood.
About half of those had normal alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels, a substance that increases in people with liver disease. The rest had elevated ALT levels.
Abnormalities were present on liver biopsy in about 20 percent of persons with normal ALT levels and about 60 percent of persons with elevated ALT levels.
The researchers observed that people who are older and who have elevated ALT levels are more likely to have liver damage than are those who are younger or who have normal ALT levels.
Other sources: Annals of Internal Medicine 2002;137:961-964