OBJECTIVES: The aims of this prospective survey were to determine the incidence and clinical characteristics of newly acquired hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection in hemodialysis patients after the start of antibody to HCV (anti-HCV) screening for blood products in Japan in 1989. METHODS: In serial serum samples from 269 hemodialysis patients who were followed over a mean period of 6.6 yr (± 2.1 yr) from 1990 to 1998, HCV RNA and anti-HCV were detected by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction and second generation ELISA, respectively. RESULTS: During the observation period, newly acquired HCV infection was found in 26 (15.4%) of the 169 hemodialysis patients without anti-HCV or HCV RNA at entry, an annual incidence rate of 2.59%. Of these 26, only four had a history of blood transfusion, one of whom had received the blood transfusion after 1992, the year in which screening of blood products for anti-HCV by second-generation ELISA was introduced in Japan. Persistent HCV viremia was found in 17 (65.4%) of the 26 patients; the other nine (34.6%) had transient HCV infection. The mean period of continuous ALT abnormality was significantly longer in the former (12.4 ± 13.6 months) than in the latter (1.9 ± 3.5 months) (p = 0.0067). However, only three (17.6%) of 17 patients with chronic HCV viremia had continuous ALT abnormality for more than 24 months; in all of them, ALT eventually normalized. CONCLUSIONS: These findings indicate that newly acquired HCV infection has continued to occur in hemodialysis patients after the initiation of anti-HCV screening of blood products and that the abnormal ALT found in these patients is related to HCV chronicity.
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