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. An estimated 30 percent of people with acute hepatitis C do not progress to the chronic stage of infection. Those who escape chronic hepatitis C are said to have achieved spontaneous viral clearance.

Unfortunately, there's no way to predict whether you'll be one of the lucky 30 percent. 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.

To reach the 30 percent estimate, researchers have analyzed data from many studies of high-risk people, particularly injection drug users. Rates of spontaneous viral clearance vary somewhat from study to study, from as low as 15 percent to as high as 40. All, however, show that well over half of acute hepatitis C infections become chronic.

Further research may explain exactly how spontaneous hepatitis C virus clearance occurs, paving the way for treatment and vaccine development.


Stacey A. Rizza, M.D.

July 13, 2018