March 18 (Reuters) - For people with the chronic liver infection hepatitis C, heavy drinking is an obvious no-no. But a U.S. study linked even moderate alcohol consumption with an increased risk of death - and not just from liver disease.
The findings, published in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, support what liver specialists typically recommend - that people with hepatitis C should limit their alcohol use, said Zobair Younossi, the study's lead author and chair of medicine at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Virginia.
"Patients with Hepatitis C should not really drink."
But the reality is that people with hepatitis C have higher rates of alcohol use than people without the liver disease, said Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, a hepatitis C researcher at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
"What this study shows is ... truly, even what might be considered a moderate and safe amount of alcohol use in people without hepatitis C is dangerous to your health if you have it," added Proeschold-Bell, who was not part of the study.
Doctors have known that excessive drinking can exacerbate liver disease caused by hepatitis C, but there's some debate about whether less frequent drinking would have a similar effect.
Younossi and his colleagues looked to a large national survey on health and lifestyle that tracked people for several years, comparing 8,767 people without hepatitis C to 218 people with the disease.
The survey tracked the participants for 13 to 14 years. During that period, 19 percent of those with hepatitis C and 11 percent of those without the infection died.
Younossi's team found that people with hepatitis C who drank excessively - three or more drinks a day - were five times more likely to die than heavy drinkers who were not infected.
That result was not surprising. But people infected with hepatitis C who had up to two drinks a day were also twice as likely to die during the study than those with similar drinking habits who were not infected.
"What is incredibly striking is liver-related death in patients with hepatitis C who even drink moderately," Younossi said, with the risk of liver-related death among people with hepatitis C who drank moderately 74 times that of similar people without hepatitis C.
Those moderate drinkers with the virus were also nearly three times more likely to die of "all causes," the researchers reported.
"A drink a day is not OK," Younossi told Reuters Health. "Even a moderate amount of alcohol use in the setting of hepatitis C can increase the risk of death and liver-related mortality specifically." SOURCE: http://bit.ly/W2Rtwn (Reporting from New York by Kerry Grens at Reuters Health; editing by Elaine LiesOVR)