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 a 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 75% 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.
The 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 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. The problem is that we do not know who will or who will not progress on to serious liver disease progression. This is why everyone with hepatitis C should be evaluated by a medical provider and seek HCV treatment.
There is currently no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C infection. But current treatment can eradicate the hepatitis C virus, leading to a cure for up to 100% of people who take the medications. Treatment may also help slow, stop, or even reverse liver disease progression.
Hepatitis C Facts
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 4 million Americans have hepatitis C, but many researchers believe the true number may be higher than 5 million.
- Up to an estimated 19,000 Americans die annually of complications related to HCV infection. This figure is expected to triple over the next 10 years unless increased testing and treatment is implemented.
- 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 up to 100% of people who are treated.
Next: The Liver