Hepatitis C - hepatitis C virus (HCV)
Hepatitis C is a serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the liver. The virus, which is called hepatitis C virus (HCV). An estimated 3 percent of the world's population — more than 170 million people — carry a mysterious virus that silently attacks their livers, often without their knowledge. That's because up to 80 percent of those infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) have no symptoms at all. In fact, most people don't know they have the disease until decades later when liver damage shows up during routine medical tests.
Hepatitis C is one of six identified hepatitis viruses — the others are A, B, D, E and G. All cause the liver to become inflamed, which interferes with its ability to function. Hepatitis C is generally considered to be among the most serious of these viruses.
Over time, HCV infection can lead to liver cancer, liver failure or cirrhosis — irreversible and potentially fatal scarring of the liver. It ranks second only to alcoholism as a cause of liver disease and is the leading reason for liver transplants in the United States. Unlike HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, HCV usually isn't transmitted through sexual contact. Instead, its primary mode of transmission is contaminated blood — through needles shared by drug users or through blood transfusions. Nearly 4 million Americans have been infected at one time with HCV and close to 3 million are chronically infected.
The encouraging news is that new cases of HCV have declined 80 percent since blood banks began screening for the virus in 1992. At the same time, because standard drug treatments are effective in only about half the people treated, the annual death toll from the disease is expected to triple in the next 10 years.
Although vaccines exist for hepatitis A and B, no vaccine for hepatitis C has been developed, primarily because the virus has many subtypes that change rapidly. Researchers hope to find a medication that will inhibit the growth of the virus and prevent long-term complications, such as cirrhosis and cancer, from developing.
Alternative namesNon-A or non-B hepatitis
DefinitionHepatitis C is an inflammation of the liver caused by infection with the hepatitis C virus.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Hepatitis C infection is caused by hepatitis C virus (HCV). Persons who may be at risk for hepatitis C are those who:
Other hepatitis virus infections include hepatitis A and hepatitis B.
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the full responsibility for their own health.
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Many people who are infected with the hepatitis C do not have symptoms. Hepatitis C is often detected during blood tests for a routine physical or other medical procedure. If the infection has been present for many years, the liver may be permanently scarred -- a condition called cirrhosis. In many cases, there may be no symptoms of the disease until cirrhosis has developed.
The following symptoms could occur:
Signs and tests