Injection drug users (IDUs) with hepatitis C virus (HCV) have an elevated risk of death when they have severe fibrosis (scarring) or cirrhosis of the liver, Reuters Health reports. The same study that reached this conclusion found that it was difficult to predict who among those with hep C and more minor liver damage would see the severity of their liver disease progress over time.

Publishing their findings in Clinical Infectious Diseases, researchers from the ALIVE study analyzed data on a group of 964 people with a history of injection drug use in Baltimore spanning 2006 to 2014. Members of the cohort had their liver stiffness evaluated semiannually during this time.

At the study’s outset, 63 percent of the cohort had no fibrosis or a mild case, 23 percent had moderate fibrosis and 15 percent had severe fibrosis or cirrhosis.

During a median 5.9 years of follow-up, the rate of death from any cause per 100 cumulative years of life was 6.21 deaths among those with severe fibrosis or cirrhosis at the beginning of the study compared with 3.59 deaths among those with moderate fibrosis and, in a rate that was not considered elevated, 2.21 deaths among those with no fibrosis or mild fibrosis.

The researchers adjusted the data for various factors that may predict death and found that there was still an elevated risk of mortality among those with severe fibrosis or cirrhosis but that the elevated death risk among those with moderate fibrosis was no longer statistically significant, meaning it could have been driven by chance.

Among those who started the study with no fibrosis or mild fibrosis, 19 percent progressed significantly along the continuum of liver damage during the study’s follow-up. The researchers found that they had a poor ability to predict who among this group would experience such progression.

To read the Reuters Health article, click here.

To read the study abstract, click here.