Long-term follow-up after cure from chronic hepatitis C virus infection shows occult hepatitis and a risk of hepatocellular carcinoma in noncirrhotic patients

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ObjectivesCuring of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection primarily aims to prevent severe liver complications. Our objectives were to investigate the long-term presence and impact of occult HCV infection (OCI) and to study the outcomes in terms of liver disease after virological cure.Patients and methodsA total of 97 patients with achieved sustained virological response (SVR) during 1990–2005 were followed either by a clinical follow-up (FU) visit with blood sampling and liver elastography (n=54) or through national registries for outcomes (n=43). To diagnose OCI among patients with SVR, a highly sensitive method was used to detect HCV-RNA traces in whole blood. The FU duration was a median of 10.5 years, with samples up to 21.5 years after the end of treatment (EOT).ResultsThe majority of patients [52 (96%)] were HCV-RNA negative at FU, and regression of fibrosis was statistically significant. OCI was found in two (4%) of them at 8 and 9 years after EOT. These patients had F1 and F2 fibrosis before treatment and F2 at FU, but no other abnormal findings. Three previously noncirrhotic men were diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma 8–11 years after EOT.ConclusionOccult infection could be detected many years after the achievement of SVR but was not associated with serious liver disease. The majority had persistent viral eradication and regression of fibrosis after SVR. However, an increased risk of hepatocellular carcinoma may persist in the long term after SVR even in noncirrhotic patients. Further studies with FU after direct-acting antiviral therapy and on the long-term impact after cure are needed.

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