Hepatitis C is a form of hepatitis, or 'inflammation of the liver,' caused by
a virus known as the hepatitis C virus, or HCV. HCV infection is more common in
Europe and the United States than HIV infection. The prevalence of hepatitis C
infection is increasing worldwide. An estimated 3 percent of the world's
people carry a virus that silently attacks their livers. About 4 million people
in the United States have antibodies to HCV, meaning
they have been infected with the virus at some point; as many as half of them do
not know they have the infection. Most people infected with
the hepatitis C virus (HCV) have no symptoms at all. In fact, most people don't
know they have the disease until liver damage shows up, decades later, during routine
medical tests. Chronic infection with this virus is one of the most important
causes of chronic liver disease and the most common indication
for orthotopic liver transplantation in most centers in the United States.
Co-infection with HCV and HIV is a growing concern. Experts believe that 15 to
30% of HIV-positive people are also infected with HCV, but among injecting drug
users and hemophiliacs, the rate can be as high as 90%.
The hepatitis C virus was identified in 1989 and it is estimated that three hundred million people worldwide have been infected with the virus. It is not related to hepatitis B virus, although it causes similar symptoms. HCV inhabits both the liver and the lymphatic system, and over time it may infect other organs too. Studies of blood donors suggest the prevalence of anti HCV antibodies is low in northern Europe, the USA and Australia, higher in southern Europe and Asia and highest in Africa.
Hepatitis C is an increasing public health concern in the United States and throughout the world.
Hepatitis C has been referred to as a “silent epidemic.” Millions have
the condition, but many of them are not aware of it because they may not
experience symptoms for decades after they are infected. That’s a big
reason why hepatitis testing and treatment are so important.
Find out more about hepatitis C by clicking on the topics below.
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