Acquisition of hepatitis C virus in hemodialysis patients: a prospective study by branched DNA signal amplification assay

Am J Kidney Dis. 1998 Apr;31(4):647-54. doi: 10.1053/ajkd.1998.v31.pm9531181.


Serological data indicate that hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is very common among chronic hemodialysis (HD) patients. Circumstantial evidence suggests that hemodialysis per se is an important risk factor for this infection. We used a novel methodology, the branched DNA (bDNA) signal amplification assay, which is capable of detecting HCV RNA and of quantifying HCV viral load in serum, to prospectively determine the rate of acquisition of HCV infection in 274 anti-HCV-negative patients undergoing HD treatment in four hemodialysis units. Moreover, we used bDNA testing to analyze the dynamics of HCV acquisition among HD patients, a high-risk group for HCV infection with immune compromise conferred from uremia. Two patients were identified with de novo acquisition during 1 year of prospective bDNA testing. Thus, the HCV incidence was 0.73% per year. De novo acquisition of HCV infection was observed in the absence of identifiable parenteral risk factors. Both patients showed the same pattern of HCV acquisition: they underwent an initial viremic phase that was associated with an increase in alanine transaminase (ALT) activity and that preceded the anti-HCV seroconversion. This was followed by HCV RNA clearance and normalization of ALT activity. Anti-HCV positivity occurred 1 and 2 months after the ALT increase in the first and second patients, respectively. Although HCV incidence was low (0.73%), further research is warranted to set the optimal policy for eliminating the risk of nosocomial transmission of HCV in the HD setting. Our findings show the pattern of HCV acquisition in chronic HD patients and emphasize the need to screen the HD population for ALT measurement combined with anti-HCV testing for detecting hepatitis C. HCV RNA testing can identify HCV before seroconversion in individuals with deranged liver function tests. The acquisition of HCV in HD patients without identifiable risk is confirmed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Hepacivirus / genetics*
  • Hepatitis B / epidemiology
  • Hepatitis C / blood
  • Hepatitis C / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / blood
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / complications
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / therapy
  • Los Angeles / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Prospective Studies
  • RNA, Viral / blood*
  • Renal Dialysis*
  • Time Factors


  • RNA, Viral