Objectives: Most epidemiological literature on the prevalence of viral hepatitis in alcohol-dependent patients is based on older data. This study aimed to provide current estimates and an assessment of risk factors. We further investigated whether the initiation of antiviral hepatitis C virus (HCV) treatment is feasible after detoxification.
Methods: We assessed serological markers for hepatitis B virus (HBV) and HCV infection and liver enzyme levels (alanine aminotransferase, aspartate aminotransferase, γ-glutamyltransferase) in a sample of 463 inpatients in a tertiary care hospital, fulfilling International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision criteria for alcohol dependence. A subsample of 141 patients was interviewed on addiction history and risk factors for HCV acquisition. All patients with an indication for antiviral treatment were followed up.
Results: Compared with that in the general population, we found an elevated anti-HCV prevalence in alcohol-dependent patients (5.2%; 95% confidence interval, 3.2%-7.2%), whereas anti-Hbc immunoglobulin G prevalence (8.3%; 95% confidence interval, 5.7%-10.8%) corresponded to normal rates. Liver enzyme levels significantly differed between patients with chronic, past/remitted, or no HCV infection. On an observational level, a history of injection drug use or nonprofessional tattooing emerged as potential risk factors. In 1 of 10 patients, antiviral therapy was initiated. This 1 patient achieved the end-of-treatment response after extended rapid virological response, despite continuous alcohol consumption.
Conclusions: The elevated HCV infection rates in our sample and the higher levels of fibrosis biomarkers in those with positive polymerase chain reaction corroborate previous findings and emphasize the importance of HCV screening in this population, particularly if further risk factors like injection drug use are given. Factors influencing treatment reluctance and conditions that may enhance the feasibility of antiviral treatment in alcohol-dependent patients should be subject of further research.