Direct tissue examination is still the most accurate way to determine the degree of liver damage in patients suffering from chronic hepatitis C

This research was presented at the 60th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Association of Gastroenterology (ACG), held in New York, New York, October 13-18,
The research was conducted by Dr. Susan McCormick and colleagues at Walter Reed Medical Center, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, in Washington, D.C.

The purpose of the study was to determine whether serum (blood) levels of the hepatitis C virus could be quantified accurately enough to predict the amount of liver damage in these patients.

The group reviewed 59 biopsies from 44 patients with chronic hepatitis C, and compared the results with tests used to determine serum levels. The Walter Reed team found no significant correlation between the tests for serum levels and the degree of liver damage detected through biopsy.

"Hepatic historological evaluation - currently the 'gold standard' in determining the extent of liver damage in hepatitis C patients - is still required for proper clinical assessment," McCormick noted.

Hepatitis C is caused by a virus that most often is transmitted through blood contact. The virus that causes hepatitis C was discovered in 1988 and a test to detect it was developed in 1990. All blood banks are required to screen for hepatitis C contamination, just as they do for the more eradicated forms of the virus - hepatitis (A and B). About 150,000 new cases of hepatitis C were discovered in 1990, however, the number of people affected by the disease in the U.S. is not yet known.

Chronic viral hepatitis (types B, C, and D) may result in cirrhosis (permanent injury or scarring) of the liver. Cirrhosis is the seventh leading cause of death by disease, claiming about 25,000 lives per year. Many patients with cirrhosis live for years, without complications.

The most common problems are liver failure and pressure on blood vessels that can affect other organs such as the spleen.

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