(Revised October 16, 2014)
Hepatitis C virus, or HCV, is a blood-borne virus that was previously referred to as non-A/non-B hepatitis. Hepatitis C has seven major genotypes, numbered 1–7. Genotype 1 is most common in the U.S.
The hepatitis C virus enters the body through direct exposure to blood or contaminated body fluids. The virus attacks cells in the liver, where it multiplies (replicates). Hepatitis C causes liver inflammation, kills liver cells, and can lead to buildup of fibrous (scar) tissue in the liver which can eventually lead to cirrhosis. Acute hepatitis C refers to the first six months of infection. Up to 85% of people initially infected with hepatitis C may become chronically infected—that is, the infection does not spontaneously clear up within the six-month period.
A majority of people with chronic hepatitis C do not have symptoms and lead relatively normal lives. However, in 10%–25% of people with chronic hepatitis C infection, the disease progresses over a period of 10–40 years, and may lead to serious liver damage including advanced fibrosis, cirrhosis (scarring), liver cancer, end-stage liver failure and possibly death or the need for a liver transplant. Today, hepatitis C is the leading reason for liver transplants in the U.S.
There is currently no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C infection. But current treatment can eradicate the hepatitis C virus, leading to a cure for most people with HCV genotype 1, 2, 3 and 4. Treatment may also help slow, stop, or even reverse liver disease progression.
Hepatitis C Facts
- The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that about 4 million Americans have hepatitis C, but many researchers believe the true number may be higher than 5 million.
- Up to an estimated 15,000 Americans die annually of complications related to HCV infection—a figure that is expected to triple over the next 10 years.
- HCV is the leading reason for liver transplants in the U.S. in adults.
- Individuals with HCV should stop or cut down on drinking alcohol and using recreational drugs.
- Individuals with HCV should be vaccinated against hepatitis A & B if not immune.
- Individuals with HCV should pursue a healthy diet and exercise program to decrease the risk of fatty liver and improve overall health.
- Hepatitis C treatment can cure most people with hepatitis C.
Next: The Liver