An acute hepatitis C infection is an infection that is diagnosed within the first six months after the person was exposed to the hepatitis C virus. Some research suggests that more than 80% of people infected do not experience symptoms within the first six months of infection. However, some people begin to experience symptoms approximately six weeks after becoming infected. These symptoms typically range from fever and fatigue to dark urine and clay-colored feces. In rare cases, a person may even experience jaundice.
What is the difference between an acute infection and a regular infection?
There is no such thing as a “regular” infection, however often you might hear about acute hepatitis C infections and hepatitis C infections. These are the same infection; however hepatitis C is most often a chronic infection. In fact, some research estimates that up to 85% of hepatitis C infections are chronic. Because of this, some medical professionals and reading materials assume any hepatitis C infection is chronic unless it is called otherwise. This leads to the rarer acute form being labeled and the more common chronic form not being labeled.
Are the two forms treated differently? How is an acute Hepatitis C infection treated?
A chronic hepatitis C infection typically requires medical intervention and treatment as soon as it is diagnosed. This is because the infection has been in the body for a long period of time and needs to be removed quickly in order to prevent liver damage or to try to prevent further liver damage. After the six month mark, it is clear that the body cannot defeat the infection on its own and thus then requires medications in order to treat, manage, and/or cure.
Acute infections are handled differently. In up to 25% of acute hepatitis C infection cases, the body is able to fight off the infection on its own. Doctors do not know why some people are able to do this and others are not. When an acute hepatitis C diagnosis is made, doctors do not know whether that person is one of the 25% of people whose body will naturally clear the infection. This leads some doctors to recommend that the patient wait to introduce medical intervention until the body shows signs of being unable to remove the infection naturally.
In these cases, the doctor is looking to prevent the introduction of drugs and their side effects into the body unnecessarily. Some patients prefer this method because they wish to wait and see, hoping that their body will fight the infection. Other doctors and patients decide to begin a drug protocol in hopes of helping the body to fight off the infection as quickly as possible, as an attempt at preventing the infection from becoming chronic or causing liver damage.
What do I do if I am diagnosed with acute hepatitis C?
If you receive a positive hepatitis C diagnosis, your doctor will run further tests to estimate when your body was exposed to the virus. This helps the doctor to understand whether your infection is acute or chronic. If you are diagnosed with acute hepatitis C, your doctor will discuss medical options with you. You may be asked whether you prefer to introduce medicine into your body to help fight the infection or if you prefer to wait and see. You are not expected to know all of the answers on your own and it is certainly okay to ask your doctor for guidance or to take time to do some research before making that decision.
Although there is general information available through many resources, it is important to discuss your personal medical history with your doctor so that you can choose the treatment that is best for your lifestyle, budget, and goals.
Whether you decide to begin medication intervention or not, your doctor will likely recommend that you make changes to your daily life. These changes are intended to help your body to be best able to fight the infection. These changes typically include bettering your sleep habits, reducing or ending drug and alcohol use, and making alterations to your diet.
If you feel unable to make these changes on your own, it is important to let your doctor know about your concerns. Your doctor will be able to guide you through the process, either personally, or via a recommendation or referral to another expert. These experts can help you to become and remain sober and/or provide you with guidance in making healthy food choices.
Chung, R. (2005). Acute Hepatitis C Virus Infection. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 41(Supplement 1), S14-S17. http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/429490
Hepatitis C FAQs for the Public | Division of Viral Hepatitis | CDC. (2016). Cdc.gov. Retrieved 24 June 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/cfaq.htm
Holland, K. & Krucik, MD, MBA, G. (2016). Acute Hepatitis C: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments & More. Healthline. Retrieved 24 June 2016, from http://www.healthline.com/health/acute-hepatitis-c
Lorenz, MD, R. & Endres, MD, S. (2016). Clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and treatment of acute hepatitis C in adults. Uptodate.com. Retrieved 24 June 2016, from http://www.uptodate.com/contents/clinical-manifestations-diagnosis-and-treatment-of-acute-hepatitis-c-in-adults
Management Of Acute HCV Infection | Recommendations for Testing, Managing, and Treating Hepatitis C. (2016). Hcvguidelines.org. Retrieved 24 June 2016, from http://www.hcvguidelines.org/full-report/management-acute-hcv-infection