The hepatitis C virus was discovered in 1989 and was initially referred to as a "not-A-not-B" hepatitis virus. The virus is a single-stranded, enveloped, positive sense RNA virus in the flavivirus family.

Hepatitis C infects an estimated 170 million persons worldwide and 3.9 million persons in the United States. Co-infection with HIV is common and rates among HIV positive populations are higher.

Currently, serological tests are available to check for infection. In addition, PCR can be used for more sensitivity and to elucidate a genotype for the infection. There are 6 major known genotypes.

The infection is spread by blood exchange and sexual contact. Before serological tests became available, it was often caused by the use of medical products derived from blood, and by blood transfusion.

Although it can be spread sexually, and vertically (from mother to child), transmission by these routes is not as likely as with hepatitis B. In most developed countries, it is usually seen primarily in intravenous drug users.

In most cases, acute hepatitis C infection has no symptoms and becomes chronic, and can cause long term damage to the liver, including cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma.

Treatment is mainly based on interferon, combined with other drugs; though this action does not guarantee results. Currently, the preferred treatment is pegylated interferon together with ribavirin.

Alternative therapies are proposed that can perhaps be considered ways to reduce the liver's duties, rather than treat the virus itself. This will not affect the course of the disease or quality of life of the person.

Though hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C have similar names (because they all cause liver disease) the viruses themselves are quite different.

See also: sexually transmitted disease

External Links

Viral Hepatitis C Frequently Asked Questions -
National Hepatitis C Prison Coalition