Course and outcome of hepatitis C


  • Jay H. Hoofnagle Bldg. 31, Room 9A27, 31 Center Dr.

    Corresponding author
    1. Division of Digestive Diseases and Nutrition, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD
    • National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892. fax: 301-480-2675
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The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a small enveloped RNA virus belonging to the family flaviviridae and genus hepacivirus. The HCV RNA genome is 9,600 nucleotides in length and encodes a single polyprotein that is post-translationally cleaved into 10 polypeptides including t3 structural (C, E1, and E2) and multiple nonstructural proteins ([NS] NS2 to NS5). The NS proteins include enzymes necessary for protein processing (proteases) and viral replication (RNA polymerase). The virus replicates at a high rate in the liver and has marked sequence heterogeneity. There are 6 genotypes and more than 90 subtypes of HCV, the most common in the United States being 1a and 1b (approximately 75%), 2a and 2b (approximately 15%), and 3 (approximately 7%). Acute hepatitis C is marked by appearance of HCV RNA in serum within 1 to 2 weeks of exposure followed by serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT) elevations, and then symptoms and jaundice. Antibody to HCV (anti-HCV) tends to arise late. In acute resolving hepatitis, HCV RNA is cleared and serum ALT levels fall to normal. However, 55% to 85% of patients do not clear virus, but develop chronic hepatitis C. Chronic hepatitis C is often asymptomatic, but is usually associated with persistent or fluctuating elevations in ALT levels. The chronic sequelae of hepatitis C include progressive hepatic fibrosis, cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma. Extra-hepatic manifestations include sicca syndrome, cryoglobulinemia, glomerulonephritis, and porphyria cutanea tarda. Knowledge of the course and outcome of hepatitis C is important in developing approaches to management and therapy.