Hepatitis C

Type: Viral

Geography: Worldwide, most infections in the Middle East and Europe

New Cases Per Year: 1.75 million

Fatality Rate: 23%

First Discovered: 1989 in California, United States

Hepatitis C is a liver disease. The virus can cause both acute and chronic hepatitis, ranging in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness. Hepatitis C is a major cause of liver cancer. It is a bloodborne virus: the most common modes of infection are through exposure to small quantities of blood. This may happen through injection drug use, unsafe injection practices, unsafe health care, transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products, and sexual practices that lead to exposure to blood.

Around 30% of infected persons spontaneously clear the virus within 6 months of infection without any treatment. The remaining 70% will develop chronic HCV infection. Globally, an estimated 71 million people have chronic hepatitis C virus infection, and a significant number of those who are chronically infected will develop cirrhosis or liver cancer.

The incubation period ranges from 2 weeks to 6 months. Following initial infection, approximately 80% of people do not exhibit any symptoms Those who are acutely symptomatic may exhibit fever, fatigue, decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, grey-colored feces, joint pain, and jaundice. Antiviral medicines can cure more than 95% of people with hepatitis C infection, but access to diagnosis and treatment is low. There is currently no vaccine against hepatitis C.

Photo: hepatitis C virus purified from cell culture – Electron micrograph.