Background: Hepatitis C is a serious problem on the Greek island of Crete, where a high prevalence of antibodies against hepatitis C (anti-HCV) has recently been reported. This article reports the findings of a study carried out in Crete, which investigated the prevalence of serum autoantibodies in patients with chronic hepatitis C.
Patients and methods: One hundred and forty two patients (59 men and 83 women), who were found anti-HCV seropositive in two hospitals and two Primary Health Care Centres in Crete, were eligible. Sixty healthy blood donors (46 men, 14 women), which were negative to anti-HCV, were used as the control group. They were randomly selected from those attending Rethymnon Hospital. Autoantibodies were identified using the indirect immunofluorescence (IFL) technique on human epithelial cells from larynx cancer (HEp-2 cells), rat liver-kidney-stomach substrate (CT3) and Chrithidia Luciliae (CL).
Results: Serum autoantibodies were detected in 104 HCV patients, yielding an overall prevalence of 73.2%. The most frequent autoantibodies were antinuclear antibodies (ANA), positive in 72 patients (50.7%). Anti-smooth muscle antibodies (ASMA) were detected in 33 patients (23.2%). Only one patient was positive for LKM1 autoantibodies. No autoantibodies were found in 38 patients (26.7%). Autoantibodies were also found in 5 out of the 60 examined healthy blood donors (8.3%).
Conclusions: Autoantibodies, mainly ANA and ASMA are very common in HCV seropositive patients from Crete. By contrast LKM1 autoantibodies are exceptionally rare in these patients.