High Rate of Spontaneous Negativity for Hepatitis C Virus RNA after Establishment of Chronic Infection in Alaska Natives

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BackgroundHepatitis C virus (HCV) leads to chronic infection in 70%-85% of exposed patients. Spontaneous clearance of the virus after chronic infection is believed to occur rarely.MethodsAlaska Natives who tested positive for HCV antibodies were enrolled in a prospective study that began in 1994 and were followed up on a regular basis. Individuals who tested positive for HCV RNA on 3 separate dates, each of which were at least 1 year apart, were included. Being negative for the virus was defined as having at least 1 negative HCV RNA test result after chronic viremia had been established.ResultsOf the 815 patients enrolled in the cohort, 139 met entry criteria and were observed for a mean period of 7.0 years. Eleven (8%) of the persons had at least 1 test in which HCV RNA was undetectable; 7 were classified as having either possible or probable clearance of the virus, corresponding to an annualized clearance rate of 0.74% per person-year (95% CI, 0.30%-1.53%). Of 9 patients who underwent subsequent HCV RNA testing, 5 (56%) had negative test results. A low HCV RNA level was significantly associated with spontaneous nondetectability of HCV RNA.ConclusionSpontaneous HCV RNA negativity during chronic HCV infection is a surprisingly frequent event and is associated with low HCV RNA titers. Knowledge of immunologic determinants of clearance may open up avenues of novel therapy.

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