Background and Aims: The aim of this study was to assess changes in the clinical pattern of hepatitis D virus (HDV) infection in Italy, brought about by improved control of hepatitis B and D viruses, and to establish the natural history of chronic hepatitis D. Methods: Histological diagnosis and clinical features of 122 patients with HDV recruited from 1987 to 1996 in three Italian tertiary referral centers (Torino, northern Italy; San Giovanni Rotondo and Castellana Grotte, southern Italy) were compared with those of 162 patients collected in the same centers in the previous decade. Patients from both groups with at least 6 months of follow-up were included in a new subgroup to assess the natural history of the disease. Results: Among 162 patients referred from 1977 to 1986, 9 (6%) had mild hepatitis at histology vs. 9 (8%) of 122 patients referred in the second decade; 105 (65%) vs. 21 (17%) had severe hepatitis; 46 (28%) vs. 38 (31%) had histological asymptomatic cirrhosis; and 2 (1%) vs. 54 (44%) had clinically overt cirrhosis. For 159 patients (121 men and 38 women; mean age, 34 ± 11), a follow-up of more than 6 months was documented, and they were included in the natural history subgroup. After 78 ± 59 months of follow-up, 112 (70%) survived free of liver transplantation: 9 underwent transplantation, 32 died of liver failure, and 6 of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. Estimated 5- and 10-year probability of survival free of orthotopic liver transplantation was 100% and 100% for patients with mild hepatitis, 90% and 90% for severe hepatitis, 81% and 58% for histological asymptomatic cirrhosis, and 49% and 40% for clinical cirrhosis (P <0.01), respectively. Conclusions: Occurrence of fresh and severe forms of hepatitis D has diminished greatly in Italy. Contemporary patients represent cohorts infected years ago who survived the immediate medical impact of hepatitis D. The disease has been asymptomatic and nonprogressive in a minority; in the majority, it rapidly advanced to cirrhosis but thereafter subsided with stable clinical conditions for more than a decade.
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