AIM: To determine the extent of liver damage resulting from infection with hepatitis B, C and D viruses (HBV, HCV and HDV) in intravenous drug users (IDUs). METHODS: Liver sections taken at necropsy performed to investigate the cause of sudden death in 48 IDUs were scored for necroinflammatory activity and fibrosis. Evidence of infection was by detection of viral antibodies in serum, hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) and HCV RNA by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). RESULTS: Evidence of HCV infection was present in 43 (90%) of 48 serum samples. Six (12%) HBsAg positive serum samples had markers indicative of chronic HBsAg carriage, including three with antibody directed against HDV. Evidence of past HBV infection was found in 27 (69%) of 39 HBsAg negative serum samples. HIV was detected in one (2%) of 48 samples. In five (10%) of 48 samples there was no evidence of current or past infection with HCV, HBV or HIV. All 43 liver sections from HCV positive IDUs scored > or = 1 for necroinflammatory activity, whereas three IDUs without HCV scored 0. Scores for stage of fibrosis were > or = 1 in 15 (35%) of 43 and zero of five IDUs, respectively. Fibrosis scores of > or = 3 were seen only in three IDUs positive for HBV, HDV and HCV. CONCLUSION: Inflammatory activity in the liver is present in a high proportion of IDUs in Glasgow and is strongly associated with HCV infection. Severe chronic liver damage was limited to HBsAg carriers superinfected with HDV and HCV.
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