Background: Acute hepatitis C has variable modes of presentation and frequently results in chronic infection. Its optimal management has yet to be defined.
Aim: To establish natural history and complications of treatment of acute hepatitis C.
Methods: Data from all patients presenting with acute hepatitis C to the National Institutes of Health between 1994 and 2007 were reviewed.
Results: Twenty-five patients were identified. Symptoms were reported by 80% and jaundice by 40%. Aminotransferase levels and hepatitis C virus (HCV) RNA levels fluctuated greatly; 18% of patients were intermittently negative for HCV RNA. Five patients recovered spontaneously whereas 20 developed chronicity or received interferon-based therapy during the acute phase. Among 15 patients treated during the acute phase with peginterferon with or without ribavirin for 24 weeks, all became HCV RNA negative within 4-8 weeks, and all except two (HIV-positive) achieved a sustained virological response. Side effects (particularly psychiatric) were common and limited treatment in 30%.
Conclusions: Among 25 patients with acute HCV infection, fluctuating illness was common and spontaneous recovery occurred in only 20%. Anti-viral treatment with a 24-week course of peginterferon and ribavirin was highly effective, but marked by frequent and severe side effects.