Background: Chronic hepatitis C is one of the major causes of end-stage liver disease with a high incidence rate, amounting to a grave and serious problem of public health. Currently, interferon-based (with or without ribavirin) antiviral therapy has limited use due to its stringent indications, possible contraindications and side effects. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) may have advantages in the prevention and treatment of chronic hepatitis C and it is of significant value to discover the advantages. Through this research, a safe and effective treatment protocol of TCM or integrated TCM and Western medicine for chronic hepatitis C can be formed. To this end, during China's Eleventh Five-Year Plan, special research projects on acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), viral hepatitis and the other major infectious diseases were established. Our studies on chronic hepatitis C constitute one of the major special research topics. Methods and design: Clinical information of patients with chronic hepatitis C will be first collected in a large, multicenter epidemiological survey. Positive symptoms will be analyzed by rapid cluster analysis, principal constituent analysis and factor analysis, and syndrome types will be diagnosed based on expert advice. Concurrently, a large, multicenter, randomized, parallel-group prospective study will be launched based on evidence-based medical principles to evaluate the effects and safety of the treatment protocol for chronic hepatitis C. The evaluated indexes will include the normalization rate of liver function, virological improvement and quality of life improvement for the short-term efficacy and the incidence of liver cirrhosis and (or) primary liver cancer and mortality for the long-term efficacy. Discussion: This study will investigate the TCM syndrome differentiation norms and the syndrome distribution rules of chronic hepatitis C and evaluate the efficacy and safety of a treatment protocol for chronic hepatitis C based on TCM theory or combined treatment of TCM and Western medicine. The study results will be helpful to developing a TCM treatment program for chronic hepatitis C. Trial registration: The research program was registered in the Chinese Clinical Trial Registry in English and Chinese in January 2010. Registration number: ChiCTR-TRC-10000770.
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