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Keywords:

  • HBV;
  • HCV;
  • alcohol abuse;
  • Italy

Abstract

Knowledge of the current epidemiology of chronic liver disease in Italy is mostly obsolete and fragmentary for the lack of up-to-date consistent data. In 2001, a 6-month prevalence study was undertaken in 79 hospitals to assess the characteristics of chronic liver disease in Italy. Both prevalent and incident cases were enrolled. A total of 9,997 patients were recruited, of whom 939 (9.4%) had normal liver biochemistry, 6,210 (62.1%) had chronic hepatitis, 1,940 (19.4%) had liver cirrhosis, and 341 (3.4%) had hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). In 567 patients (5.7%) the diagnosis was not established. Hepatitis C virus (HCV) was found in 69.9% of the patients and was the only etiological factor in 56.3% of all the patients. Hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) was present in the serum of 13.4% of the cases (in 10% it was the only etiological factor). A history of alcohol abuse was found in 23% of the cases (9.4% without viral infection). The prevalence of HCV-related cases was significantly lower in incident than in prevalent cases (44.9% vs. 59.9%, P < 0.0001), while the proportion of patients with alcohol abuse was much higher in incident than in prevalent cases (18.1% vs. 6.6%, P < 0.0001). These findings indicate that nearly one quarter of patients with chronic liver diseases in Italy have a severe disease such as liver cirrhosis and HCC represents a not negligible burden for the national health system. Hepatitis B fell in importance as an etiological factor. Hepatitis C is the important pathogenic factor for chronic liver disease in Italy. However, a comparison between the prevalent and incident cases suggests that in future HCV infection will also play a progressively decreasing role, in part as a consequence of treatment. J. Med. Virol. 75:522–527, 2005. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.