OBJECTIVE: Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is a major complication among hemodialysis patients the world over. To determine the natural course of HCV viremic levels in patients on maintenance hemodialysis, we prospectively quantified the HCV RNA levels in serial blood samples from hemodialysis patients and compared them with those in nonuremic subjects. METHODS: The population studied included 98 hemodialysis patients and 228 nonuremic subjects with chronic HCV infection. HCV RNA was detected by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and the levels were determined by branched DNA probe assay. HCV RNA genotypes were determined by PCR using type-specific primers. RESULTS: HCV RNA levels were significantly lower in hemodialysis patients (median, 0.4 x 106 genome equivalent [Meq]/ml) than in nonuremic subjects (median, 3.0 Meq/ml) (p < 0.05). HCV of genotype 1b was prevalent in the hemodialysis patients (81.6%) and nonuremic subjects (88.6%). HCV RNA levels in 20 hemodialysis patients with genotype 1b were significantly reduced after each hemodialysis procedure (p < 0.05). The 3-yr prospective observation from 1995 to 1998 showed a significant decrease of HCV RNA levels in 47 hemodialysis patients with genotype 1b (median, 1.9-0.9 Meq/ml, p < 0.05), whereas levels in 155 nonuremic subjects with genotype 1b did not decrease (median, 2.6-3.0 Meq/ml). There were no patients or nonuremic subjects with undetectable HCV RNA by a PCR assay during the observation period. CONCLUSIONS: These observations suggest that maintenance hemodialysis decreases the HCV RNA levels in hemodialysis patients with chronic HCV infection, but does not produce clearance of the viremia. (C) 2000 by Am. Coll. of Gastroenterology.
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