Acute hepatitis C: prevention and treatment

Ozaras R., Tahan V.

EXPERT REVIEW OF ANTI-INFECTIVE THERAPY, vol.7, no.3, pp.351-361, 2009 (SCI-Expanded) identifier identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Review
  • Volume: 7 Issue: 3
  • Publication Date: 2009
  • Doi Number: 10.1586/eri.09.8
  • Journal Indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-EXPANDED), Scopus
  • Page Numbers: pp.351-361
  • Istanbul University Affiliated: Yes


HCV can cause acute or chronic hepatitis and is a health problem all over the world. It is one of the leading causes of cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma, and is a common indication for liver transplantation. Unrecognized patients with HCV infection may transmit the virus to uninfected people. The acute form of the disease leads to chronic hepatitis in the majority of cases. Since the success rate of treatment given in the chronic phase is much lower than that given in the acute phase, recognizing acute hepatitis is critical. Although HCV is less prevalent since 1990s in the Western world after improved blood-donor screening programs, needle-exchange facilities and education among intravenous drug users, it is still endemic in some regions, including African countries, Egypt, Taiwan, China and Japan. Acute HCV infection may be a challenge for the clinician; since it is often asymptomatic, detection and diagnosis are usually difficult. After an incubation period of 7 weeks (2-12 weeks), only a minority of patients (10-15%) report symptoms. The spontaneous clearance of the virus is more frequent primarily during the first 3 months of clinical onset of the disease, but may occur anytime during the 6 months of acute infection. This spontaneous resolution seems to be more frequent in symptomatic cases. Viremia persisting more than 6 months is accepted as chronic infection. The virus is transmitted more frequently through infected blood or body fluids. Detection of antibodies against HCV is not a reliable method of diagnosing acute HCV infection since the appearance of antibodies against HCV can be delayed in up to 30% of patients at the onset of symptoms. Thus, the diagnosis of acute hepatitis C relies on the qualitative detection of HCV RNA, which may appear as early as 1-2 weeks after exposure quickly followed by highly elevated alanine aminotransferase. After a follow-up period of 8-12 weeks for allowing spontaneous resolution, treatment should be initiated. Pegylated interferon monotherapy for 24 weeks seems effective, and the therapy can be individualized according to the characteristics of the patient.