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Hepatitis C Medications

What Is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis is a general term that means inflammation of the liver that could be caused by viral infections, exposure to alcohol, medications, chemicals, poisons, toxins etc. Hepatitis C, specifically, is inflammation of the liver caused by infection with a virus called the hepatitis C virus (HCV) that also is commonly referred to as "hep C." There are at least six different types of HCV, known as viral genotypes. In the United States, HCV genotype 1 is the most common, and unfortunately, is the most difficult to treat. Once infected with HCV, the immune system begins to fight the virus. In a limited number of people, the immune system is able to fight the virus and clear the virus for good. In most people infected with HCV, however, the virus stays in the body for a long time, that is, they become chronically infected with HCV.

What Causes Hepatitis C?

The hepatitis C virus is not related to the other viruses that may cause hepatitis such as hepatitis A, B, D and E. HCV is part of a family of viruses called flaviviruses, a single stranded RNA virus that is about 30 to 60 nm in size. Like the other hepatitis viruses, hepatitis C virus is contagious, but is mainly transmitted by contact with contaminated blood or blood products.

  • Sharing of contaminated needles among intravenous (IV) drug users is the most common mode of transmission of HCV. Using a needle to inject drugs, even just once many years previously, is a risk factor for infection with HCV.
  • Rarely, HCV is transmitted through hemodialysis (removal of toxins in the blood in patients with kidney failure) and transfusion with infected blood or blood products. (Since 1992, all blood products have been screened for HCV, and cases of HCV due to blood transfusion now are rare.) Transplantation of organs from infected donors is another rare cause of HCV transmission.
  • Extremely rare transmission modes include from mother to child during birth, sexual intercourse without a condom (particularly if sexually active with more than one partner), and accidental needle sticks of health care workers handling patients' blood infected with HCV. Other possible modes of transmission include manicures, haircuts, and tattoos, but these are unlikely.

What Are the Symptoms of Hepatitis C?

Acute Infection

The majority of newly-infected patients (approximately 80%) identified with HCV do not have symptoms (are asymptomatic). The minority of patients (approximately 20%) who have symptoms typically have complaints of fatigue, abdominal pain, nausea, loss of appetite, and jaundice.

Chronic Infection

Classic symptoms include fatigue, jaundice, weight loss, sleep disturbance, and itchy skin as well as fluid retention that causes swelling of the belly (ascites), legs (edema), or whole body (anasarca).

Medical and Pharmacy Editor:

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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Hepatitis C »

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 170 million individuals worldwide are infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV).

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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