Background: No recent national-level data on the aetiology of chronic hepatitis are available in Italy. Aim: To evaluate the current aetiology of chronic hepatitis in Italy. Patients: A total of 6210 chronic hepatitis patients (both prevalence and incident cases) consecutively admitted to 79 hospitals located throughout Italy were enrolled over a 6-month period in 2001. The hospitals were randomly selected through systematic cluster sampling. Results: The main agent associated with chronic hepatitis was hepatitis C virus, which was found in 76.5% of the patients (in 62.6% it was the only aetiologic factor). Hepatitis B surface antigen was present in the serum of 12.2% of the cases (in 9.2% it was the only aetiologic factor). Hepatitis B e antigen and hepatitis Delta were detected in 16.6% and 7.0%, respectively, of hepatitis B surface antigen-positive patients. A history of alcohol abuse was found in 19.2% of the cases (5.5% without viral infection). Autoimmune hepatitis and inborn metabolic disorders were extremely rare. The prevalence of hepatitis C virus-related cases was significantly lower in incident cases, compared to prevalent cases (55.1% versus 65.0%; p <0.01). The mean alanine aminotransferase level was significantly higher in hepatitis B surface antigen-positive patients, compared to hepatitis B surface antigen-negative patients. The histology was less severe in non-viral-related cases. Conclusions: Hepatitis C virus is the most important pathogenic factor for chronic hepatitis in Italy; however, the comparison between prevalent and incident cases suggests that this infection will play a less important role in the future. A comparison with previous reports shows that both hepatitis B virus-related and hepatitis Delta virus-related cases are decreasing.
- Chronic hepatitis
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