Hepatitis C: What is unique about hepatitis C?


Topic: Hepatitis C, June 2000

Dr. Lee:
There is something unique about hepatitis C infection. It is different from other infections like hepatitis A.

With hepatitis A infection, we typically will develop jaundice (turning yellow), fatigue, nausea, and fever. However, the majority of the patients with hepatitis A will recover completely (the body is capable of getting rid of the A virus). Thus we do NOT develop chronic liver disease from hepatitis A infection. Whereas Hepatitis C virus typically stays within our body for years and years, and can cause chronic liver disease. Am I correct in saying that?

Dr. Edward Block:
That is correct. The common symptoms of hepatitis A are yellow jaundice, nausea and fatigue. It is not difficult for a doctor to diagnose somebody with acute hepatitis A infection. In contrast, the initial infection with hepatitis C largely go undiagnosed and unnoticed. Thus, Hepatitis C infections are typically found many years later.

Because of its ability to remain in our body for years, hepatitis C can cause chronic liver disease. Probably well over 80% of people infected with hepatitis C will develop chronic liver disease. Generally, chronic liver disease will develop over a period of many years with delayed stages of complication occurring almost 20 years later. Such delayed complications might include severe scarring of the liver (known as cirrhosis), which unfortunately will develop in 20% of those infected. And, additionally, 4% of all people exposed will be at risk for developing Hepatocellular Carcinoma (liver cancer).

Chronic progressive liver damage with hepatitis C can also lead to end-stage liver failure. End stage liver failure from hepatitis C is becoming the leading reason for referral for liver transplantation in this country.

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