To understand how to prevent the diffusion of hepatitis C virus (HCV) in dialysis units, 289 chronic dialysis patients treated in a renal department from the beginning of 1990 to June 30, 1993, were studied. Patients were screened monthly for alanine aminotransferase values and every 3 months for anti-HCV antibodies. At the beginning of the study the prevalence of anti-HCV antibodies was 24.7%. Two study groups were defined. In the first, anti-HCV-positive patients were treated on separate machines; in the second, 13 anti-HCV-positive and 13 negative patients shared the same machines. Patients in the study were treated with traditional dialysis, employing low-permeability membranes and disposable dialysate circuits on machines without an ultrafitration control device. The ‘universal precautions’ were rigorously applied. The use of blood transfusions was markedly reduced. Although new patients starting dialysis treatment revealed a high frequency of HCV positivity (10.8%), the overall prevalence of HCV infection in the department did not increase during the follow-up period. Furthermore, no seroconversion was found in patients on dialysis treatment, not only in the section where anti-HCV-positive patients were treated on separate machines, but also in the section where anti-HCV-positive and anti-HCV-negative patients shared the same machines. The possibility of an intradialytic diffusion of HCV appeared to be very low and the treatment of infected patients on separate machines not strictly necessary.

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