Background: Early identification of patients at a higher risk of rapidly progressive recurrent hepatitis post liver transplantation (LT) could help to tailor antiviral therapy.
Methods: We studied the correlation between early post-LT viral load and the histological and clinical outcomes of 49 consecutive patients (34 males, median age 55 years) in whom viraemia was monitored at days 0, 1, 7, 30, 180 and 365 after LT.
Results: Hepatitis C recurred at histology in 38 of 42 (90.5%) patients. Early viral load after LT was higher in patients with rapidly progressive hepatitis C recurrence (day 7 median HCV-RNA levels: 5.84 vs 4.93 Log10 IU/ml, P=0.003). Day 7 HCV-RNA levels ≥2.5 × 105 IU/ml, donor age >60 years and rejection episodes were independently associated with progression to cirrhosis within one year post-LT [P=0.018, odds ratio (OR) 27.59; P=0.043, OR 13.85 and P=0.048, OR 9.95, respectively]. Day 7 viraemia and rejection episodes were independently associated with 5-years survival. Day 7 viraemia, in combination with acute hepatitis and/or donor age, showed 80% sensitivity, 94% specificity and 90.5% diagnostic accuracy to identify severe recurrence.
Conclusions: Early post-LT HCV-RNA correlates with the severity of hepatitis C recurrence and in combination with donor age (>60 years) and rejections, identifies patients with a high risk of severe recurrence and candidates of cost-effective pre-emptive antiviral therapy.