Background: The majority of chronic hepatitis is ascribable to hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, whereas the clinical impact has not been understood in kidney transplant recipients. Our current study was carried out to assess the impact of HCV infection on kidney recipients over the long-term, and to investigate the effect and risk of interferon-alpha (IFN-alpha) therapy for chronic active hepatitis C.
Methods: Hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) and antibody to HCV (HCVAb) were examined prospectively and retrospectively in 280 patients, who underwent kidney transplants in the period from 1973 to 1996. The patient survival rate, the graft survival rate, the incidence of liver dysfunction and the cause of mortality among the HCV infected and noninfected groups were analyzed. IFN-alpha therapy was performed on 10 patients with chronic active hepatitis C.
Results: Prevalence of the hepatitis virus was quite high at 34.3% (96/280): the frequency of the HBsAg carrier was 3.2% (9/280), that of the HCVAb carrier was 28.6% (80/280) and that of the both carriers was 2.5% (7/280). The other 184 cases (65.7%) were negative for both HBsAg and HCVAb. Liver dysfunction developed at the significantly higher incidence of 55% in HCVAb carriers compared to the 9.2% of the noninfected group (P<0.01). HCVAb carriers had a poor survival rate in the second decade compared to the noninfected group: 83.7% vs. 88.91% for 10-year survival (P=0.44) and 63.9% vs. 87.9% for 20-year survival (P<0.05). The poor survival rate was a result of the mortality from liver disorder. Five patients died of such disease in the infected groups whereas no noninfected patient died in the same period (p<0.01). As the result of IFN-alpha therapy, biochemical activity normalized or improved in eight cases, whereas the HCV-RNA titer was reduced only in three patients. Only one patient maintained normal biochemical markers and undetectable levels of HCV-RNA for 2 years after treatment. The therapy was discontinued for five patients with the adverse effects of acute rejection, deterioration of diabetes, and depression.
Conclusions: HCV infection has a significant impact on kidney transplant recipients over the long term and in particular affects them in the second decade. Our pilot study revealed only partial efficacy of IFN-alpha therapy for HCV-infected recipients, but with the high risk of acute rejection.