Persistent hepatitis C viremia after acute self-limiting posttransfusion hepatitis C



Persistent viremia after clinical or subclinical hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is believed to occur in patients with chronic hepatitis C, but little is known about the duration of HCV replication in patients with acute hepatitis who have recovered or the relation of HCV viremia with the kinetics of antibodies to HCV (anti-HCV). We tested HCV-RNA and anti-HCV in serial serum samples from 41 patients with posttransfusion non-A, non-B hepatitis, followed for an average of 6 years after transfusion. Serum HCV-RNA was measured by nested polymerase chain reaction, which used primers from the 5′ untranslated region of the HCV genome. Anti-HCV were tested with first- and second-generation enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA 1 and ELISA 2), and with a second-generation recombinant immunoblot assay. Of the 41 patients, 10 recovered and 31 progressed to chronic liver disease. HCV-RNA was detected in serum before or simultaneously with the onset of hepatitis in all cases, and lasted between 2 and 6 weeks in 5 of the 10 patients who recovered, whereas it persisted for the entire follow-up period in every case with chronic hepatitis and in the remaining 5 patients with self-limiting hepatitis. Anti-HCV were detected with ELISA 2 in the first serum sample, with raised serum transaminases in 57% of patients, but in only 6% with ELISA 1. In the sample obtained 1 month after the onset of hepatitis, anti-HCV were detected with ELISA 2 in 94% of patients, but in 34% with the ELISA 1. Anti-HCV (anti C-33 and anti-c22) were cleared in the five patients with transient hepatitis C viremia, but remained detectable in those with chronic viremia. In conclusion, serum HCV-RNA is detected at the onset of acute posttransfusion hepatitis C and persists in patients progressing to chronic hepatitis. Some patients with self-limiting hepatitis become HCV-RNA negative soon after the onset of hepatitis, whereas in others it persists throughout follow-up, suggesting the development of a silent carrier state.