- Treating Hepatitis C
- Hepatitis C Quiz
- Hepatitis: What Puts You at Risk?
- Hepatitis C FAQs
- Patient Comments: Hepatitis C - Diagnosis
- Patient Comments: Hepatitis C - Symptoms
- Patient Comments: Hepatitis C - Treatment and Medications
- Patient Comments: Hepatitis C - Treatment Side Effects Experience
- Patient Comments: Hepatitis C - Experience
- Find a local Gastroenterologist in your town
- Hepatitis C infection (HCV) facts
- What is hepatitis C infection, and how many people are infected?
- What is the hepatitis C virus?
- What are the symptoms of hepatitis C infection?
- What is the contagious period for hepatitis C?
- What is the incubation period for hepatitis C?
- How long does it take for symptoms to appear after contracting hepatitis C?
- How is hepatitis C spread?
- Can hepatitis C infection affect other organs besides the liver?
- Who is at high risk and should be tested for hepatitis C infection?
- What type of doctor treats hepatitis C?
- How is hepatitis C diagnosed?
- Liver biopsy and non-invasive tests for hepatitis C
- What medications cure hepatitis C infection?
- What are the treatment guidelines for hepatitis C?
- What is the treatment for people with acute hepatitis C infection?
- What are the side effects of treatments for hepatitis C infection?
- What about liver transplantation for a person with hepatitis C?
- How is monitoring done after treatment for hepatitis C?
- What home remedies are available for hepatitis C?
- What are the complications of undiagnosed hepatitis C?
- Can hepatitis C be prevented?
- What is the prognosis of hepatitis C?
- What is the current research and what is in the future for hepatitis C?
Quick GuideHepatitis C Pictures Slideshow: Transmission, Symptoms and Treatment
What is the hepatitis C virus?
Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis C is one of several viruses that can cause hepatitis. It is unrelated to the other common hepatitis viruses (for example, hepatitis A or hepatitis B). Hepatitis C is a member of the Flaviviridae family of viruses. Other members of this family of viruses include those that cause yellow fever and dengue fever.
There are at least six different genotypes (strains) of the virus which have different genetic profiles (genotypes 1 to 6). In the U. S., genotype 1 is the most common strain of hepatitis C. Even within a single genotype there may be some variations (genotype 1a and 1b, for example). Genotyping is used to guide treatment because some viral genotypes respond better to some therapies than to others.
Like human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis C multiplies very fast and attains very high levels in the body. The genes that make the surface proteins of the virus also mutate (change) quickly, and thousands of genetic variations of the virus ("quasi-species") are produced daily. It is impossible for the body to keep up with making effective antibodies against all of the quasi-species circulating at one time. It has not been possible yet to develop an effective vaccine since the vaccine must protect against all genotypes.
Hepatitis C infection in the liver triggers the immune system, which leads to inflammation. Very few people experience typical hepatitis symptoms such as dark urine or clay colored stools in acute or early infection. Chronic hepatitis C usually causes no symptoms until very late in the disease, and hepatitis C has been referred to by sufferers as the "sleeping dragon." Over several years or decades, chronic inflammation may cause death of liver cells and scarring ("fibrosis"). Extensive scarring in the liver is called cirrhosis. This progressively impairs vital functions of the liver. Cirrhotic livers are more prone to liver cancer (hepatoma). Drinking alcohol speeds up liver damage with hepatitis C. Concurrent HIV infection also accelerates progression to cirrhosis.