• hepatitis C virus;
  • liver histology

This study examines the relationship between HCV-RNA levels and disease severity in 60 individuals with chronic hepatitis C virus infection. HCV-RNA levels were quantified by the branched DNA (bDNA) assay in 445 samples (median: eight samples per patient) obtained over a median of 40.4 months (95% confidence interval (CI): 37.0–42.5). The median log HCV-RNA level was 6.77 (95% CI: 6.62–6.92) molecular equivalents/mL (MEQ/mL). The median log range of HCV-RNA levels in individual patients over the course of the study was 0.89 (95% CI: 0.69–1.16). HCV-RNA level varied over time by less than one log in 62% of patients, by 1–1.5 logs in 22% and by greater than 1.5 logs in only 17%. Univariate analysis, revealed an inverse association between HCV-RNA levels and ALT levels (P=0.037). Univariate and logistic regression analysis showed no significant association between HCV-RNA levels and either the degree of inflammation or fibrosis. In contrast, there was a significant positive association between alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels and histological activity especially in individuals with ALTs>  100 IU/L. Hence, HCV-RNA levels: (i) almost always fell within the dynamic range of the bDNA assay; (ii) were stable in asymptomatic chronically infected patients, with only a small proportion of patients exceeding a range of 1.5 logs; (iii) did not correlate with either the extent of inflammation or degree of fibrosis. In contrast, there was a strong association between ALT level and the histological severity of liver disease.