Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal | Past issues | Volume 14, 2008 | Volume 14, issue 5 | Patient concerns regarding chronic hepatitis B and C infection

Patient concerns regarding chronic hepatitis B and C infection


PDF version

A.H.M. Alizadeh,1 M. Ranjbar2 and M. Yadollahzadeh1

ABSTRACT Counselling of patients with viral hepatitis is often limited to discussions about how the virus is transmitted. The aim of the present study was to document the principal concerns of patients suffering from chronic hepatitis B and C infection. The most common volunteered concerns were infecting family members (80.6%), infecting others (66.7%), side-effects of treatment (50.0%), disease progression to cirrhosis (44.4%), loss of employment (41.7%), liver transplantation (36.1%), social stigma (36.1%), change in lifestyle (33.3%), development of liver cancer (25%), costs and money (22.2%), fear of disease (5.6%) and psychological disease (5.6%). Health care providers who focus counselling efforts exclusively on viral transmission are unlikely to address other important concerns.

Préoccupations des patients concernant les hépatites chroniques B et C

RÉSUMÉ Le conseil aux patients atteints d’hépatite virale se limite souvent à des discussions sur le mode de transmission du virus. L’objectif de la présente étude était de recueillir des informations sur les principales préoccupations des patients atteints d’hépatite chronique B ou C. Les préoccupations les plus souvent citées spontanément étaient la crainte d’infecter les membres de la famille (80,6 %), la crainte d’infecter les autres (66,7 %), les effets secondaires du traitement (50,0 %), l’évolution de la maladie vers la cirrhose (44,4 %), la perte d’emploi (41,7 %), une greffe du foie (36,1 %), les préjugés (36,1 %), le changement de mode de vie (33,3 %), le développement d’un cancer du foie (25 %), les coûts et les questions d’argent (22,2 %), la peur de la maladie (5,6 %) et les maladies psychologiques (5,6 %). Les prestataires de soins de santé qui ne s’intéressent qu’à la transmission du virus dans le cadre de leurs activités de conseil risquent de ne pas répondre aux autres préoccupations importantes des patients.

1Research Centre for Gastroenterology and Liver Disease, Shaheed Beheshti University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran (Correspondence to A.H.M. Alizadeh: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ).
2Department of Infectious Disease, Iran University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran.
Received: 29/01/06; accepted: 12/06/06
EMHJ, 2008, 14(5): 1142-1147


The estimated global prevalence of viral hepatitis is around 3%–5%, which means that approximately 400 million people are infected with hepatitis B virus (HBV) [1] and around 170 million with hepatitis C virus (HCV) [1–4]. Given the variability that exists with respect to the features and outcome of chronic HBV and HCV infection, appropriate counselling to address patient concerns is an integral component of patient management. Yet the precise content of that counselling remains to be defined.

In those few reports that specifically address counselling in HCV-infected individuals, the focus has largely been on routes of viral transmission and what can be done to decrease the risk of transmission to others [5–8]. To date, only one study has prospectively documented the principal concerns of infected individuals [2] and what should be incorporated into patient counselling.

The present study aimed to document the principal concerns about HBV and HCV infection of patients attending a viral hepatitis clinic in Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran, to provide information for future counselling strategies.


This descriptive study was conducted during April to September 2005 on consecutive patients with hepatitis B or C who were admitted to a viral hepatitis clinic in Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran. The referral clinic is staffed by gastroenterologists and serves patients with hepatitis. The diagnosis of hepatitis was based on history of HBV surface antigen (HBsAg) or HCV antibody (HCVAb) positivity in 2 separate laboratory examinations. Patients with other documented transmittable diseases such as HIV, mentally retarded patients and those less than 14 years old were excluded.

A physician or nurse interviewed each patient in private. No patient refused to be interviewed. Patients were initially asked in an open-ended manner about their principal concern regarding their HBV or HCV infection (volunteered concern). In most patients more than 1 principal concern was volunteered. Patients were then provided with a list of 8 potential concerns and asked to prioritize them. The list had been developed by the attending physicians and the priority scores ranged from 1 (most important) to 8 (least important). The following items were included in the list of concerns: social stigma of having liver disease; loss of employment; development of liver cancer; development of cirrhosis; infecting family members; infecting others; requiring a liver transplant; and side-effects of treatment.

The categorization process was performed in a semi-blinded fashion such that physicians were unaware of the nature of the patient (HBV or HCV infected) or their demographic status. We also documented whether these concerns varied with respect to the demographic characteristics of the patient population, including age, sex, ethnicity, level of education, marital status, employment (yes or no), mode of acquisition of the virus, residence (urban/rural) and type of hepatitis (HBV or HCV).

All data were analysed with SPSS, version 13. Continuous variables were summarized as mean and standard deviation (SD), and frequencies were shown by percentages.


The demographic characteristics of the 36 patients interviewed during the 6-month study period (19 with chronic HBV infection and 12 with chronic HCV) are shown in Table 1. The mean (SD) age of patients was 32.1 (11.2) years. The mean follow-up period was 21.9 (25.4) months; 77.8% of cases were followed up for ≤ 24 months (range 0–108 months).

The majority were male (28 cases; 77.8%) and living in the city (27 cases; 77.1%). There was a relatively even distribution of education level attained, marital status, employment, ethnicity and (volunteered) mode of acquisition of the virus.

The principal concerns that were volunteered spontaneously by patients are shown in Table 2. The most common concern was infecting family members (80.6%), followed by infecting others (66.7%) and side-effects of treatment (50.0%).

When the results were analysed by mean score, the rankings for volunteered concerns were slightly different; the highest priority [mean score (SD)] was for infecting family members [1.76 (SD 1.18], followed by fear of disease [2.50 (SD 2.12)], disease progression to cirrhosis [2.69 (SD 1.53)] and infecting others [2.83 (SD 1.34)] (Table 2). From the list of potential concerns presented to patients the highest priority [mean score (SD)] was given to infecting family members [2.59 (SD 1.98)], followed by disease progression to cirrhosis [2.87 (SD 1.58)], infecting others [3.71 (SD 1.88)] and developing liver cancer [4.03 (SD 2.11)] (Table 2).

The most common concerns were analysed by demographic characteristic. Infecting family members was the most common volunteered concern of HBV patients among males (66.7%), Fars ethnicity (71.4%), below grade 12 education (57.1%), highschool diploma education (80%), single (57.1%), married (66.7%), unemployed (55.6%), employed (70.0%) and living in a village (100%). However, side-effects of treatment was the most common volunteered concern of patients with HBV infection among females (71.4%), university education (71.4%), congenital mode of acquisition (100%) and urban residence (64.3%). Infecting others was the most common concern among Turks (100%) and loss of employment among Kurds (57.1%).

On the other hand, the commonest volunteered concern in all subgroups of patients with HCV infection was infecting family members.


The results of this study indicate the most common concern in patients with chronic HBV and HCV infection relate to viral transmission. The other concerns were disease progression, side-effects of treatment and loss of employment. Similar results were obtained in both subgroups of HBVand HCV-infected patients. With a few exceptions, these concerns were consistent regardless of sex, ethnicity, level of education, marital status, employment, mode of viral acquisition and residence of patients. Differences between rank order of the volunteered concerns in HBVand HCV-infected patients may be influenced by follow-up duration, mode of acquisition or ethnicity, but the 3 first concerns in both groups of patients were the same.

As discussed earlier, the principal focus of patient counselling for HCV-infected individuals described in previous reports is what can be done to decrease the risk of viral transmission to others [5–7,9]. According to the results of this study, the risk of viral transmission to family members and others, when combined, represented the volunteered concern of 66.7% to 80.6% of patients. Thus, if counselling were limited to discussions about HBV and HCV transmission, the main concerns of approximately 60%–80% of infected individuals would be addressed. Of course, we should consider that the high concern about transmitting the infection to others may have resulted from the participants’ desire to please the interviewer and give a response that seemed most appropriate and least selfish.

Disease progression is a general term that describes patients’ concern that “the disease would get worse” or “I will become too tired in the future to do what I can do now”. It was considered a distinct concern if patients failed to offer a specific outcome such as cirrhosis or liver cancer from that progression. If considered as one principal concern, based on the results of both volunteered and prioritized rankings, cirrhosis was the most feared outcome of disease progression, followed by liver cancer and liver transplantation.

Inpractical terms,therelative consistency of findings across the various demographic profiles of patients facilitates counselling efforts in HBVor HCV-infected individuals [7]. For example, regardless of whether patients are employed or unemployed, male or female, HBV-infected or HCV-infected, etc., if physicians address the issues of disease progression, side-effects of treatment and infection of family members or others, the principal concerns of these patients will have been addressed.

The limitations of this study include the following: first, investigators could not control the extent of counselling provided to newly diagnosed patients by their referring physicians in the community. However, based on the differences between volunteered and prioritized concerns, it would appear that such counselling was limited. Secondly, although the centre to which the patients were referred tends to see the majority of HBVand HCV-diagnosed cases in the region, we cannot rule out referral bias. Thirdly, because of the cross-sectional design of the study, patients were not followed to determine whether their concerns changed with time. Finally, similar data do not exist in the medical literature. Hence, we cannot determine whether these findings are site-specific.

In summary, counselling of HBVand HCV-infected patients that is limited to discussions about viral transmission would satisfy the principal concerns of approximately 60%–80% of patients. But disease progression and side-effects of treatment and loss of employment are also common concerns of patients with chronic HBV and HCV.


  1. Szabó E et al. Viral hepatitis: new data on hepatitis C infection. Pathology and oncology research, 2003, 9(4):215–21.
  2. Minuk GY et al. Patient concerns regarding chronic hepatitis C infections. Journal of viral hepatitis, 2005, 12(1):51–7.
  3. Lauer GM, Walker BD. Hepatitis C virus infection. New England journal of medicine, 2001, 345:41–52.
  4. Davis GL et al. Treatment of chronic hepatitis C with recombinant interferon alfa. A multicenter randomized, controlled trial. Hepatitis Interventional Therapy Group. New England journal of medicine, 1989, 321:1501–6.
  5. Chan SE, Rosen HR. Outcome and management of hepatitis C in liver transplant recipients. Clinical infectious diseases, 2003, 37:807–12.
  6. Becherer PR, Bacon B. Hepatitis C testing: interpretation, implications and counseling. Missouri medicine, 1993, 90:31–5.
  7. Zarski JP, Leroy V. Counselling patients with hepatitis C. Journal of hepatology, 1999, 31:136–40.
  8. Zweben JE. Hepatitis C: education and counseling issues. Journal of addictive diseases, 2001, 20:33–42.
  9. Feray C et al. European collaborative study on factors influencing outcome after liver transplantation for hepatitis C. Gastroenterology, 1999, 117:619–25.