What is Hepatitis C?


Electron micrograph of the hepatitis C viruses.

Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. There are many causes of inflammation including alcohol, drugs, autoimmune diseases and viruses.

There are at least five viruses known to cause predominantly inflammation of the liver: hepatitis A virus (HAV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), hepatitis D virus (HDV), and hepatitis A virus (HEV). They vary in their severity and characteristics. Hepatitis C is one of them and can lead to serious, permanent liver damage and potentially death.

Although hepatitis A and E can occasionally have a very severe and fatal outcome, the rule is cure after the body has killed the virus. In contrast, HBV, sometimes in conjunction with HDV, and HCV can turn into chronic infection, because the body's immune system fails to eradicate the virus.

The Hepatitis C virus (HCV) was identified in 1989. It has become clear that most Hepatitis C infections (50-85%) become chronic and lead to liver disease, including fibrosis (scarring) and cirrhosis (scarring of liver tissue surrounding regenerating nodules) and liver failure. Hepatitis C infection is typically mild in its early stages, and it is often not diagnosed until it has caused significant damage to the liver. The cycle of disease from infection to significant liver damage can take 20 years or more.