Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease produced by the hepatitis C virus (HCV).
HCV is one of the most common viruses that infect the liver, and is usually contracted by susceptible persons from the blood of an HCV-infected person. Between 75% to 85 % of newly-infected persons develop chronic infection, and of them, 60 to 70% develop chronic liver disease and less than a quarter develop cirrhosis. Hepatitis C is found to be the cause of 25% of liver cancer patients.
Approximately 150 million people are chronically infected with hepatitis C virus, and HCV-related mortality is placed 350 000 people annually.


Typically, the incubation period for HCV is between 2 weeks to 6 months.
Around 80% of infected people do not display any symptoms after the initial infection. For chronic hepatitis C, most suffer minor to no symptoms in the first few decades of the infection, mostly experiencing fatigue.
Acute symptoms include fever, jaundice, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, faeces gray in colour, decreased appetite, and joint pain.


As HCV infections do not always require treatment, screening for HCV is recommended for people who may be at risk of infection, as an early diagnosis can help prevent complications due to infection and inhibit transmission to other people, and an appropriate approach to treatment may be determined according to the patient’s needs. There are 6 genotypes of the hepatitis C virus and they may respond differently to treatment.
While no vaccine currently exists for hepatitis C, research is continuing in that field.
The main form of treatment available is the use of combination antiviral therapy with interferon and ribavirin has been the basis of hepatitis C treatment. Unfortunately, interferon is not broadly available worldwide, and is also not always well tolerated as some virus genotypes respond better to interferon than others.
Scientific developments have resulted in the production of new antiviral drugs for hepatitis C, which show more effectiveness and tolerance than existing therapies, as has been seen with two recently licensed new therapeutic drugs, telaprevir and boceprevir.


Hepatitis C is found globally, with an estimated 3% of the world’s population living with chronic hepatitis C, and more than 350,000 people die yearly from hepatitis C-related complications. The leading type of transmission in countries with the highest rates of the disease is credited to use of contaminated injections.


World Health Organisation: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs164/en/
Epidemiology of hepatitis C virus infection: http://www.wjgnet.com/1007-9327/13/2436.pdf

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