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Chronic viral hepatitis in hemodialysis patients


*K.N. Lai, Department of Medicine, University of Hong Kong, Room 409, Professorial Block, Queen Mary Hospital, 102, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong.


Ever since the first outbreaks of hepatitis in hemodialysis units in the late 1960s, a number of hepatotropic viruses transmitted by blood and other body fluids have been identified. This review summarizes the current state of knowledge regarding these blood-borne agents from an epidemiologic and preventive perspective. Data source and study selection were obtained from research and review articles related to the epidemiology of viral hepatitis in hemodialysis and indexed on Medline and Embase from 1965 to 2004. Hepatitis B virus (HBV) was the first significant hepatotropic virus to be identified in hemodialysis centers. HBV infection has been effectively controlled by active vaccination, screening of blood donors, the use of erythropoietin, and segregation of HBV carriers. To date, HBV remains an important cause of morbidity in endemic areas. Hepatitis delta virus is a defective virus that can only infect HBV-positive individuals. Hepatitis C virus is the most significant cause of non-A, non-B hepatitis and is mainly transmitted by blood transfusion. The introduction in 1990 of routine screening of blood donors for HCV contributed significantly to the control of HCV transmission. An effective HCV vaccine remains an unsolved challenge, however. Pegylation of interferon-α has made it possible to treat HCV-positive dialysis patients. Unexplained sporadic outbreaks of hepatitis by the mid-1990s prompted the discovery of hepatitis G virus and hepatitis GB virus C in 1995 and the TT virus in 1997. Although epidemiologic analyses revealed high prevalence rates of both viruses in the hemodialysis population, their exact role in liver disease has yet to be determined. The vigilant observation of guidelines on universal precaution and regular virologic testing are the cornerstones of the effective control of chronic hepatitis in the setting of hemodialysis.