Changes in epidemiological patterns of HCV infection and their impact on liver disease over the last 20 years in Greece


Stephanos J. Hadziyannis, Departments of Medicine and Hepatology, Henry Dunant Hospital, 107 Mesogion Ave., Athens 11526, Greece. E-mail:


Summary.  The aim of this study was to investigate the relative frequency of hepatitis C virus (HCV) genotypes in Greek patients with chronic infection as well as possible secular changes in their distribution in relation to modes of transmission, age and time at acquisition of the infection and other variables. We evaluated 434 unselected patients, 241 males and 193 females with a median age of 46.2 years (18–75), with chronic HCV infection presenting during the period 1996–2000. HCV infection was confirmed by the detection of HCV-RNA by polymerase chain reaction (PCR), while HCV genotyping was performed by the Inno-LiPA assay. Liver biopsies were evaluated according to Ishak's scoring system. Of 434 patients, 167 had a history of blood transfusion [post-transfusion hepatitis (PTH)], 80 were i.v. drug users and in 187 the route of infection remained unknown. The overall distribution of HCV genotypes 1, 2, 3 and 4 was 47, 8.3, 27 and 15.2%, respectively. Genotype 3 was common in younger adults and i.v. drug users, whereas genotype 1 predominated in older people and PTH patients (P < 0.001 for both). Infection acquired before 1981 (group A) was related to transfusion and genotype 1, while after 1981 (group B) with i.v. drug use and genotype 3 (P < 0.01). Biopsy was available in 369 (85%) patients, of whom 22.5% had cirrhosis; 29.8% in group A and 9.9% in group B. In a multivariate analysis, cirrhosis was strongly associated with the duration of infection (P = 0.013). Our study revealed a change of HCV genotype distribution in the last 20 years among Greek patients with chronic HCV infection as a result of epidemiological changes in HCV transmission. The presence of cirrhosis was associated only with the duration of infection. These observations have impact both on prevention and treatment.