Acute hepatitis C infection: Is it serious?

Acute hepatitis C infection doesn't always lead to chronic hepatitis C infection. But because more than half of the people with the acute infection go on to develop chronic infection, acute hepatitis C is serious.

Acute hepatitis C can be treated, greatly reducing the risk of chronic infection. However, acute hepatitis C usually causes no symptoms, so diagnosis and treatment rarely occur.

Acute hepatitis C develops two weeks to six months after the hepatitis C virus enters your bloodstream. In the small number of people who get sick during the acute infection, signs and symptoms include:

  • Yellowing of the skin (jaundice)
  • Dark urine
  • White-colored stool
  • Nausea
  • Pain in the upper right part of the abdomen

These signs and symptoms last for two to 12 weeks.

Most acute hepatitis C infections today occur in people who share needles to inject drugs. Health care workers who have needle-stick injuries also are at risk.

If you think you've recently been exposed to the hepatitis C virus, it's important to get tested right away. Blood tests to detect hepatitis C virus proteins, followed by a later test to detect antibodies to the virus, can usually distinguish acute from chronic infection. Knowing you have an acute hepatitis C infection may make a difference in the choice of treatment.