People with the liver-wrecking hepatitis C virus who receive liver transplants are usually considered to have poor prospects because physicians expect the disease to attack the transplant within a few years. But researchers now report that these hepatitis C patients fare about as well over the decade following the procedure as do patients receiving liver transplants to ameliorate other conditions.
More than one-third of the livers transplanted in the United States go to hepatitis C patients.
Researchers tracked the progress of liver transplants in 135 people with hepatitis C and 608 people with other liver diseases. After 10 years, 67 percent of the hepatitis C patients were still alive, compared with 59 percent of the others, scientists report in the September Liver Transplantation. People with liver cancer or hepatitis B fared the worst.
Previous studies had suggested that liver transplants in hepatitis C patients were more likely to fail because the virus remains in the body even after a person’s liver is replaced, says study coauthor Russell H. Wiesner, a hepatologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Indeed, the main cause of liver problems following a transplant in hepatitis C patients is the virus.
The new study shows that any life-threatening problem occurring in patients with hepatitis C generally came several years after transplant surgery. In the first 90 days after the operation, hepatitis C virus wasn’t responsible for any of the severe health problems that occurred. They were usually caused by other infections or the failure of the transplanted organ to thrive.