BACKGROUND: Previous studies of patients with hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection looking at the effect of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) co-infection on biochemical parameters and HCV RNA level have shown conflicting results. Accurate characterization of the effect of HIV is important for evaluation and treatment of HCV in co-infected persons. METHODS: We studied 315 HCV mono-infected and 75 HCV-HIV co-infected subjects to determine the effect of HIV on biochemical parameters and HCV RNA and to determine the predictors of elevated serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels and HCV RNA levels. RESULTS: The co-infected subjects were more likely to be African-American (55% vs 26%, P < 0.0005), have used injection drugs (68% vs 60%, P = 0.02), have detectable HCV RNA (84% vs 70.5%, P = 0.018), have HCV RNA levels >6 log10 IU/mL (60% vs 38%, P = 0.001), and have lower mean serum ALT levels (50.4 IU/mL vs 73.7 IU/mL, P = 0.006). In multivariable analyses, the following factors predicted an ALT level >50 IU/mL: log10 HCV RNA (OR, 1.15; 95% CI, 1.00 to 1.32); HIV co-infection (OR, 0.48; 95% CI, 0.25 to 0.89); and having ever been treated for HCV (OR, 1.92; 95% CI, 1.16 to 3.18). The only significant predictor of HCV RNA level >6 log10 IU/mL was HIV co-infection (OR, 2.75; 95% CI, 1.46 to 5.15). Significant predictors of having a detectable HCV RNA level were female sex (OR, 3.81; 95% CI, 1.18 to 12.25); HIV co-infection (2.45; 95% CI, 1.14 to 5.26); and ever being treated for HCV (OR, 1.96; 95% CI, 1.10 to 3.48). CONCLUSIONS: HCV-HIV co-infected persons have higher HCV RNA levels but lower serum ALT levels than HCV mono-infected patients. Criteria for performing liver biopsy and treating HCV infection in co-infected patients may need to be revisited.
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