Medical practices regarding hepatitis C virus infection in Europe

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Six hundred and ninety-three European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL) members, belonging to one of the 15 European Union (EU) member-states, were surveyed, through a standardized 45-item questionnaire, on their medical practices regarding hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. The response rate was 45%, roughly similar in all the countries concerned. Responders were classified into three groups according to their geographical origin: North, Centre and South. A consensus existed with regard to the necessity of HCV screening in well-defined situations, such as history of blood transfusion, haemodialysis, haemophilia or intravenous drug addiction(90% of positive answers) while opinions substantially differed for vertical and nosocomial transmission of HCV. For the prevention of sexual and vertical transmission, opinions differed greatly: 22% were in favour of barrier methods for HCV-positive subjects while 34% were against; 49% allowed breast-feeding for babies born to HCV-positive mothers while 14% were against. Conversely, there was relative homogeneity in the issue of domestic prevention (70% in favour of precautions). Algorithms for prescription of virological tests were inhomogeneous (recombinant immunoblot assay was used by 60%; polymerase chain reaction was requested by 77% when alanine aminotransferase (ALT) was elevated vs 89% when normal); medical evaluation varied according to ALT values: liver biopsy and liver ultrasonography were carried out in 90 and 91% vs 40 and 70% for increased and normal ALT, respectively. Thirty per cent of respondents advised patients to stop alcohol consumption and 60% advised moderation. Two-thirds of the responders did not take into account histological severity and virological parameters before initiating antiviral therapy. Eighty per cent of the participants claimed that they administered interferon (IFN) for 12 months. For most of the items studied, there was a large variation, not only between the three groups, but also within each group. Ninety-two per cent of the responders claimed that they were well trained on HCV but they were rather critical of the quality of the information diffused (satisfaction rate: 45%). Altogether, our survey demonstrates that preventive and medical practices towards HCV are not homogeneous throughout the EU; this suggests the need for a European consensus conference in this regard.

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