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Dig Liver Dis. 2003 Feb;35(2):104-13.

Natural course of acute hepatitis C: a long-term prospective study.

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Department of Clinical Medicine, Immunology and Infectious Diseases, University of Bari, Bari, Italy.



Acute hepatitis C has a high chronicity rate which appears to be significantly reduced by early antiviral treatment. However, it is unclear if all acutely infected patients should be treated, and when. In this prospective study, patients with a well-documented diagnosis of acute hepatitis C were evaluated to define the natural course, the rate of chronicity, and host and virus-related factors which might predict a self-limiting or chronic evolution requiring early antiviral treatment.


From 1995 to 2000, 40 consecutive patients with a community-acquired AHC were enrolled. Liver tests, anti-hepatitis C virus antibodies and hepatitis C virus RNA levels were monitored. Median follow-up was 35 months (range 12-68).


A total of 24/40 patients had symptomatic disease including 20 with jaundice; 13/40 patients had prompt serum hepatitis C virus RNA clearance and ALT normalisation within 12 weeks; in 12/13 patients this pattern remained unchanged during follow-up. Overall, 27/40 patients remained hepatitis C virus RNA positive with fluctuating ALT levels. Older age and jaundice were predictive of resolution whereas there was no correlation with other host factors, viral genotype or viral load.


Our data demonstrate that spontaneous resolution can occur in about 30% of AHC patients. This favourable outcome rarely occurs in patients with anicteric AHC or in those with jaundice but with persistent viremia for more than 12 weeks from onset; early antiviral treatment for these patients may avoid or reduce chronicity.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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