Nearly three million persons in the United States are viremic with hepatitis C (HCV). Despite a decreasing incidence of HCV in this country, the prevalence of HCV-related chronic liver disease is increasing. Most infections in the United States are acquired by intravenous drug use. The chronicity rate of HCV is high, reaching 85% in some populations, and the risk of progression to advanced liver disease is as high as 20% within twenty years of infection. Host factors like alcohol use accelerate the rate of progression. The enzyme immunoassay is the preferred initial test for diagnosis; the third generation assay has greater than a 99% specificity in immunocompetent patients. Barring contraindications, the standard of care for treatment of chronic HCV has become pegylated interferon and ribavirin. With this therapy, the cure rate for treatment-naïve patients is about 55%, but rates are higher in certain groups. Common side effects of therapy include neuropsychiatric symptoms, influenza-like symptoms and hematological abnormalities.
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