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Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C Overview

Hepatitis is a general term that means inflammation of the liver. This inflammation can be caused by contagious diseases such as viral infections. Hepatitis can also be caused by exposure to alcohol, certain medications, chemicals, poisons, and other toxins, or by other diseases. Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is one of the many viruses that can cause inflammation of the liver.

Inflammation of the liver caused by infection with HCV is referred to as hepatitis C.

  • If the infection does not resolve, it becomes chronic (ongoing, long term) and can cause chronic liver disease, which can be serious or even fatal.
  • Approximately 75% to 85% of people infected with hepatitis C develop chronic hepatitis C. Many live normal lives, but some develop significant liver damage over several years.
  • If the disease progresses to liver failure (end stage liver disease), then liver transplant is the only treatment.
  • Hepatitis C is an increasing public health concern in the United States and throughout the world.
  • HCV is one of the most common causes of chronic liver disease in the United States and the most common cause of chronic viral hepatitis.
  • It is believed that there are 17,000 new (acute) cases of hepatitis C in the United States each year. Hepatitis C is the leading viral cause of cirrhosis, end-stage liver disease, and liver cancer.
  • HCV is responsible for 8,000 to 10,000 deaths per year in the United States.

More than 3 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.

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

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