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J Viral Hepat. 2008 Feb;15(2):120-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2893.2007.00900.x.

The course of hepatitis C viraemia in transfusion recipients prior to availability of antiviral therapy.

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Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA.


Knowing the likely distribution of intervals from hepatitis C infection to first RNA-negativity is important in deciding about therapeutic intervention. Prospectively collected sera and data from the Transfusion-transmitted Viruses Study (1974-1980) provide specific dates of infection and pattern of alanine aminotransferase (ALT) elevations. We examined frequency, timing and correlates of spontaneous resolution for 94 acutely infected transfusion recipients followed for a median of 9.5 months. Later, follow-up sera (>10 years) were available for 27 of the 94 cases from a Veterans Administration (VA) Study (1989-1990). Twenty-five (27%) of the 94 cases were classified as probably resolved during the episode itself. First RNA negativity occurred at 6-50 weeks (median, 19.5 weeks) after infection, and 5-43 weeks (median, 11 weeks) after ALT elevation. Thirteen of the 25 cases remained RNA-negative subsequently; 12 others had 1-6 RNA-positive sera intercalated between first and last RNA-negative results. RNA negativity, therefore, began variably and was interrupted in 12 cases of 25 (48%) by transient RNA-positive sera. Five of these 25 patients who were RNA-negative in the last study specimen had late, Veterans Administration Study follow-up; none showed viraemia. Of the remaining 69 transfusion transmitted virus study recipients, whose last serum was RNA-positive, two cleared viraemia after the last study serum but before late follow-up. Eleven (16%) had 23 intercalated RNA-negative sera before last positivity. RNA status, therefore, needs monitoring for many months before judging the spontaneous outcome as transient negativity may occur. Resolution was significantly more common in women and symptomatic cases; it was not associated with viral load in the infectious donation, HCV genotype, or the recipient's age.

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