The natural history of hepatitis C viral infection.
Although early data suggested that chronic hepatitis C virus infection carried little risk, studies with longer duration of infection have reported concerning results. Of patients with acute infection, approximately 80% will develop chronic infection. The greatest risk of morbidity comes with cirrhosis and the resulting increased risk of hepatocellular carcinoma. The true risk of progression to cirrhosis, however, has emerged as an area of controversy. Both host and viral factors seem to impact susceptibility to chronic infection, cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma. Hepatitis C virus has become the most common indication for liver transplantation, but the infection routinely recurs and may have a more aggressive course after transplantation. Given that current treatment options for hepatitis C virus infection are clearly not optimal, informed decisions regarding treatment require an in depth understanding of the natural history.
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