Background : The natural history of hepatitis C virus infection among patients on long-term dialysis treatment remains incompletely understood. Efforts to elucidate the natural history of hepatitis C virus in this population are difficult because of the slowly progressive nature of hepatitis C virus with often an unrecognized onset in patients whose life-expectancy is substantially diminished by end-stage renal disease.

Aim : To conduct a systematic review of the published medical literature concerning the impact of hepatitis C virus infection on the survival of patients receiving chronic dialysis. The relative risk of mortality was regarded as the most reliable outcome end-point.

Methods : We used the random effects model of DerSimonian and Laird to generate a summary estimate of the relative risk for mortality with hepatitis C virus across the published studies.

Results : We identified four clinical trials (2341 unique patients); three (75%) of them were prospective, cohort studies; the fourth was a case–control study. Pooling of study results demonstrated that presence of antihepatitis C virus antibody was an independent and significant risk factor for death in patients on maintenance dialysis. The summary estimate for relative risk was 1.57 with a 95% confidence interval (CI) of 1.33–1.86. A test for homogeneity of the relative risks across the four studies gave a P-value of 0.77. As a cause of death, hepatocellular carcinoma and liver cirrhosis were significantly more frequent among antihepatitis C virus-positive than -negative dialysis patients.

Conclusions : This meta-analysis demonstrates that antihepatitis C virus-positive patients on dialysis have an increased risk of mortality compared with hepatitis C virus-negative patients. The excess risk of death in hepatitis C virus-positive patients may be at least partially attributed to chronic liver disease with its attendant complications. Clinical trials with extended follow-up are currently under way to assess the effect of hepatitis C virus treatment on the excess risk of mortality in this population.