If I'm infected with hepatitis C and not treated, how likely is the infection to become chronic?
Answer From Stacey A. Rizza, M.D.
The period right after you're infected with hepatitis C virus is known as the acute stage of infection. Some people with acute hepatitis C do not progress to the chronic stage of infection. This is called spontaneous viral clearance. Rates of spontaneous viral clearance vary somewhat from study to study, from as low as 15% to as high as 50% — though the average is around 25%.
Unfortunately, there's no way to predict whether you'll be one of the lucky ones who will escape chronic hepatitis C. Even if doctors could make such a prediction, it wouldn't help most people with early hepatitis C because the acute infection rarely causes signs and symptoms.
Further research may explain exactly how spontaneous hepatitis C virus clearance occurs, paving the way for treatment and vaccine development.
Nov. 05, 2019
Stacey A. Rizza, M.D.
See more Expert Answers
- Hepatitis C questions and answers for the public. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/cfaq.htm?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fhepatitis%2Fc%2Fcfaq.htm. Accessed Oct. 17, 2019.
- Hepatitis C, acute. Merck Manual Professional Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/hepatic-and-biliary-disorders/hepatitis/hepatitis-c,-acute. Accessed Oct. 17, 2019.
- Bethea ED, et al. Should we treat acute hepatitis C? A decision and cost-effectiveness analysis. Hepatology. 2018; doi:10.1002/hep.29611.
- HCV Guidance: Recommendations for testing, managing, and treating hepatitis C. The American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases and the Infectious Diseases Society of America. https://www.hcvguidelines.org. Accessed Oct. 17, 2019.