Introduction: A new form of hepatitis C virus infection, known as occult hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, is characterized by the presence of HCV_RNA in the liver or peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs). However, no serological markers of infection occur and there is not as much damage to the liver damage as is produced by chronic hepatitis C. There is a high incidence of HCV infection among hemodialysis patients, there is significant concern about viral transmission. HCV infection is a major problem in hemodialysis (HD) units even though blood products are screened for anti-HCV antibodies and other precautions are taken. The aim of this study was to determine the prevalence of occult HCV infection in PBMC in chronic hemodialysis (CHD) patients in the dialysis unit at Theodor Bilharz Research Institute (TBRI) with HCV antibodies and HCV RNA negativity irrespective of their liver function tests. 

Methods: Fifty-three patients who were repeatedly were anti-HCV negative and serum HCV-RNA negative and on regular hemodialysis for > six months were enrolled in the study, which was conducted in the dialysis unit of Nephrology Department at TBRI; there were 10 healthy matched controls. The patients were classified into two groups according to the result HCV RNA in their PBMCs. Serological markers of HCV infection, including anti-HCV antibody and serum HCV-RNA, were repeatedly negative for all patients included in the study. We collected serum and PBMC samples from the patients on the day they entered the study. The test of all serum samples for anti-HCV antibodies and HCV-RNA was repeated by RT-PCR to ensure that the patients did not have these HCV serologic markers, We also measured their ALT and GGT levels.  

Results: Occult hepatitis C virus infection (OCI) was detected in 15.1% of our CHD patients without any evidence of chronic liver disease. 

Conclusion: Occult HCV infection was present among the hemodialysis patients irrespective of whether they had persistent abnormal values of liver enzymes for which no cause had been identified. Further study is required to determine the clinical significance of occult HCV infections in these patients.


Keywords: hepatitis C, hemodialysis, occult infection
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