Background: Although concomitant alcoholism is widely believed to enhance liver disease progression in persons with hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, this relationship has not been well quantified.
Objective: To quantify the relationship of transfusion-associated HCV infection and history of heavy alcohol abuse to development of cirrhosis.
Design: Retrospective cohort study.
Setting: Liver clinics in university and government hospitals.
Patients: Extended follow-up of 1030 patients in prospective investigations of transfusion-associated viral hepatitis conducted in the United States between 1968 and 1980.
Measurements: Development of cirrhosis and history of heavy alcohol abuse were determined from review of interviews with patients or their proxies, medical records, death certificates, and autopsy and biopsy reports. Logistic regression was used to estimate the risk for cirrhosis associated with transfusion-associated HCV infection and history of heavy alcohol abuse.
Results: The absolute risk for cirrhosis was 17% among patients with transfusion-associated HCV; 3.2% among patients with transfusion-associated non-A, non-B, non-C hepatitis; and 2.8% among controls. Patients with transfusion-associated HCV were more likely than controls to develop cirrhosis (odds ratio, 7.8 [95% CI, 4.0 to 15.1]). A history of heavy alcohol abuse was associated with a fourfold increased risk for cirrhosis. Hepatitis C virus infection plus a history of heavy alcohol abuse led to a substantial increase in risk for cirrhosis (odds ratio, 31.1 [CI, 11.4 to 84.5]) compared with controls without such a history.
Conclusions: Heavy alcohol abuse greatly exacerbates the risk for cirrhosis among patients with HCV infection. This finding emphasizes the need to counsel such patients about their drinking habits.