Hepatitis C virus RNA profiles in chronically infected individuals: Do they relate to disease activity?



Fluctuations of hepatitis C virus (HCV)-RNA serum levels were monitored in a multicenter study in 76 chronic HCV carriers who had been followed longitudinally without receiving antiviral therapy to assess their relation with the course of liver disease activity. Forty-four patients had normal transaminases over more than 2 years, while 32 additional patients had fluctuating levels. Viral load was measured in serial serum samples prospectively collected for 10 to 12 months in 54 patients and in sera stored yearly up to 8 years in an additional 22 patients. In patients tested monthly, a lesser extent of fluctuations was detected in cases with constantly normal transaminases as compared with those with fluctuating transaminases. In the former group, the mean difference between maximum and minimum values observed in each individual patient was 0.7 Log, while in the latter group, it was 1.3 Log (P = .0004). Most of these patients experienced, on average, three peaks of viremia over 1 year. The range of variation observed upon yearly testing was between 0.2 and 2.2 Log and did not reach statistical significance between the two groups. In conclusion, a careful viral replication profile can be achieved only by monthly testing, because longer time intervals could miss viremia fluctuations. HCV-RNA levels are more stable in asymptomatic HCV carriers than in patients with biochemical activity of liver disease.