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J Hepatol. 2012 Dec;57(6):1349-60. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2012.07.007. Epub 2012 Jul 14.

Case definitions for acute hepatitis C virus infection: a systematic review.

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Viral Hepatitis Clinical Research Program, The Kirby Institute, The University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney, NSW, Australia.



Case definitions for recent hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection vary considerably between studies. The aim of this systematic review was to characterize case definitions for recent HCV and explore the heterogeneity in studies performed to date.


A systematic literature search of MEDLINE, SCOPUS, and ISI Web of Knowledge was performed covering all studies of recent HCV infection cited between January 2000 and June 2011. The criteria used by each study to define cases of recent HCV infection were extracted, structured, and analyzed.


Overall, 195 articles were included, with 87% (n=169) providing a clear case definition for recent HCV infection. The most frequently used individual criteria for defining a case included HCV antibody seroconversion (77%), alanine aminotransferase (ALT) elevation (68%), and HCV RNA detection (63%). In studies using HCV antibody seroconversion, the window period between the last negative and the first positive antibody test varied widely across studies (4 weeks to 4 years). Considerable diversity was also observed with respect to the ALT threshold used to characterize ALT elevations, ranging from 2 to 20 times the upper limit of normal. HCV antibody seroconversion was used as a single criterion in 41% of the studies, while all other studies used at least two criteria (range: 2-9). Epidemiology/surveillance studies mostly used a more sensitive case definition, whereas treatment studies, natural history studies, and diagnosis studies used more specific case definitions.


Marked heterogeneity in case definitions for recent HCV infection was observed. Although a single case definition for recent HCV is not warranted, a degree of standardization within specific study categories would enable improved cross-study comparison and more uniform evaluation of HCV prevention and management strategies.

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