What is Hepatitus C?
Hepatitis C is an infectious disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV) that primarily affects the liver. During the initial infection people often have mild or no symptoms. Occasionally a fever, dark urine, abdominal pain, and yellow tinged skin occurs. The virus persists in the liver in about 75% to 85% of those initially infected. Early on chronic infection typically has no symptoms. Over many years however, it often leads to liver disease and occasionally cirrhosis. In some cases, those with cirrhosis will develop complications such as liver failure, liver cancer, or esophageal and gastric varices.
HCV is spread primarily by blood-to-blood contact associated with intravenous drug use, poorly sterilized medical equipment, needlestick injuries in healthcare, and transfusions. Using blood screening, the risk from a transfusion is less than one per two million. It may also be spread from an infected mother to her baby during birth. It is not spread by superficial contact. It is one of five known hepatitis viruses: A, B, C, D, and E. Diagnosis is by blood testing to look for either antibodies to the virus or its RNA. Testing is recommended in all people who are at risk.
There is no vaccine against hepatitis C. Prevention includes harm reduction efforts among people who use intravenous drugs and testing donated blood. Chronic infection can be cured about 90% of the time with treatments that include the medications sofosbuvir or simeprevir. Previous to this a combination of peginterferon and ribavirin was used which had a cure rate around 50% and greater side effects. Getting access to the newer treatments however can be expensive. Those who develop cirrhosis or liver cancer may require a liver transplant. Hepatitis C is the leading reason for liver transplantation, though the virus usually recurs after transplantation.
An estimated 143 million people (2%) worldwide are infected with hepatitis C as of 2015. In 2013 about 11 million new cases occurred. It occurs most commonly in Africa and Central and East Asia. About 167,000 deaths due to liver cancer and 326,000 deaths due to cirrhosis occurred in 2015 due to hepatitis C. The existence of hepatitis C – originally identifiable only as a type of non-A non-B hepatitis – was suggested in the 1970s and proven in 1989. Hepatitis C infects only humans and chimpanzees.