BACKGROUND: The magnitude of the effect of hepatitis C viral infection on survival is still not fully understood. The objective of this study was to determine whether the presence of hepatitis C viral antibodies in 1991 was associated with increased mortality 20 years later within a cohort of patients with substance use disorders. Secondary objectives were to determine other factors that were associated with increased mortality in the cohort.
METHODS: A subset of a 1991 study cohort of patients who had presented for detoxification was reexamined 20 years later. The Social Security Death Index was queried to identify which of the original patients had died. Attributes of survivors and non-survivors were compared, with special attention to their hepatitis C status in 1991. The original study and this analysis were conducted in the chemical detoxification unit at Johns Hopkins Bayview (previously Francis Scott Key Hospital), an academic urban hospital. All participants met the criteria for alcohol or opioid dependence at the time of admission in 1991. The primary study outcome was 20-year mortality after initial admission in 1991, with a planned analysis of hepatitis C status.
RESULTS: Twenty years after admission, 362 patients survived and 82 had died. Of the 284 patients who were hepatitis C positive, 228 survived (80 %). Of the 160 patients who were hepatitis C negative, 134 survived (84 %). This absolute risk increase of 4 % was not statistically significant (p = 0.37). Factors associated with increased mortality included male sex, white race, older age, and reported use of alcohol, cocaine, and illicit methadone. Binary logistic regression including hepatitis C status and these other variables yielded an adjusted odds ratio of 0.87 (95 % CI 0.49-1.55); (p = 0.64) for hepatitis C positive 20-year survival.
CONCLUSIONS: Hepatitis C positivity was not associated with a statistically significant difference in 20-year survival. The effect of the virus on mortality, if present, is small, relative to the effect of substance use disorders alone.
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