We identified 15 patients with acute hepatitis C (AHC) among 29 healthy volunteers participating in 2 consecutive pharmacokinetics studies. Molecular techniques were used to determine the relatedness of viral strains, whereas clinical and virologic follow-up was started to establish the course and outcome of the acute infection. After presentation, serum liver enzymes and HCV RNA were monitored weekly for 4 months, then monthly for at least 12 months. Liver biopsy was performed 6 to 12 months after AHC diagnosis. Phylogenetic analysis of coding regions for the envelope glycoproteins E1 and E2 was performed. At presentation, all 15 patients tested HCV RNA-positive and had HCV genotype 2c. Phylogenetic analysis indicated a common source of infection. Fourteen patients agreed to be followed prospectively. Infection resolved spontaneously in 8 patients, HCV RNA becoming undetectable by 4 to 5 months after the presumed time of infection in 5 of them and by 8, 13, and 24 months in the remaining 3. Six patients developed chronic infection. Liver biopsies performed in 9 subjects who were HCV RNA-positive 6 months after AHC diagnosis revealed that the prevalent histologic finding was lobular inflammation. In conclusion, our homogeneous cohort showed a wide spectrum of clinical, virologic and histologic features, and, more importantly, short-term outcome differed noticeably despite the common source of infection.
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