Spontaneous viral clearance in patients with acute hepatitis C can be predicted by repeated measurements of serum viral load

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Abstract

Early interferon (IFN) therapy prevents viral persistence in acute hepatitis C, but in view of the resulting costs and morbidity patients who really need therapy have to be identified. Twelve consecutive patients with acute hepatitis C (9 women, 3 men, mean age: 39.5 ± 18.8 y, genotype 1: 7, genotype 3a: 3, 2 could not be genotyped) were studied. The sources of infection were medical procedures in 6, sexual transmission in 3, and intravenous drug abuse in 3 patients. Viral load was measured by Cobas Amplicor HCV Monitor v2.0 (Roche Diagnostic Systems, Branchburg, NY). The time from infection to clinical symptoms was 43.3 ± 8.6 (mean ± SD) days. Eight patients cleared hepatitis C virus (HCV) spontaneously and remained HCV-RNA negative with a follow-up of 9.0 ± 3.9 months. In these patients viral load declined fast and continuously. The time from exposure to HCV-RNA negativity was 77.4 ± 25.3 and from the first symptoms was 34.7 ± 22.1 days. In 4 patients HCV-RNA levels remained high or even increased. Two of them became sustained responders to treatment initiated after a 6-week observation period. The 2 remaining patients were not treated (one because of contraindications for IFN, the other declined therapy) and are still HCV-RNA positive. In conclusion, patients with acute icteric hepatitis C have a high rate of spontaneous viral clearance within the first month after the onset of symptoms. IFN therapy appears only needed in patients who fail to clear the virus within 35 days after onset of symptoms. By this approach, IFN therapy was not necessary in two thirds of patients with acute hepatitis C.

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