• autoantibodies;
  • cryoglobulins;
  • hepatitis C virus;
  • histopathology;
  • β-thalassemia major;
  • viral load

Abstract: Objectives: Multitransfused adult β-thalassemic patients constitute a population with high prevalence of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, because of transmission of HCV from infected blood donors prior to the introduction of anti-HCV screening. The aim of this study was to compare them with otherwise normal patients with HCV infection.

Methods: Forty-two adult multitransfused β-thalassemics and 49 otherwise normal patients of the same age, with chronic HCV infection were studied. Viral parameters, autoimmunity indices and liver histology were evaluated.

Results: Serum HCV RNA levels were found significantly lower in thalassemic (median: 65 150 international units per milliliter (IU/ml); range: 3 059 380 IU/ml) than in non-thalassemic (NT) patients (median: 580 000 IU/ml; range: 10 956 000 IU/ml; P=0.001). The most prevalent genotype in thalassemic group was genotype 4 (32.4%) while in NT group was genotype 3a (59.2%). Cryoglobulins were detected in 8/42 (19%) thalassemic patients and in 12/49 (24.5%) NTs. Thalassemic patients had significantly lower levels of C3 and C4 components of complement and higher incidence of anti-nuclear antibodies than those without thalassemia. In patients with thalassemia a lower grading score was noted in liver biopsy compared with those without thalassemia (4.41±1.98 vs 5.38±2.09, P=0.038). On the contrary, thalassemic patients were found to have a higher staging score (3.08±1.51 vs 2.33±1.34, P=0.024).

Conclusions: Adult β-thalassemic patients, compared with other patients with HCV infection, present lower necroinflammatory activity and lower viral load but higher staging score. Autoimmune features are marginally different. Age of acquiring the infection, iron overload and modulation of immune system by transfusions are the proposed causes of these differences.