Hepatitis C is a silent killer

Last updated date: 13-Dec-2021

CloudHospitalGeneral HealthHepatitis C

4 mins read

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a disease caused by an RNA virus that infects the liver. A hepatitis C infection can lead to inflammation of the liver and cause the immune system to attack healthy liver cells. Hepatitis C is a silent killer that often goes unnoticed. It affects hundreds of millions of people around the globe and can be transmitted through blood and bodily fluids. Most who have it do not know they are infected, which leads to the infection to go unnoticed, and undiagnosed, until the virus has caused serious liver damage. Hepatitis C can cause terrible damages to the liver through liver disease,  cirrohosis, liver failure and even liver cancer.

Hepatitis C virus causes both acute and chronic infection. Hepatitis C infections are often without symptoms. Around 30% of infected persons clear the virus within 6 months of infection without any treatment by their own immune system response. The remaining 70% of persons will develop chronic infection. Of those with chronic infection, the risk of cirrhosis ranges between 15% and 30% within 20 years.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), hepatitis C is found worldwide. The most affected regions are the Eastern Mediterranean Region and the European Region, with an estimated prevalence in 2015 of 2.3% and 1.5%, respectively. Prevalence of infection in other regions varies from 0.5% to 1.0%. Depending on the country, hepatitis C virus infection can be concentrated in certain populations. For example, 23% of new infections and 33% of mortality is attributable to drug use by injection. In countries where infection control practices are insufficient, the infection is often widely distributed in the general population. There are multiple strains of the virus and their distribution varies by region.

Transmission. The hepatitis C virus is a bloodborne virus. It is most commonly transmitted through:

    Injecting drug use through the sharing of needles

    The reuse or inadequate sterilization of medical equipment, especially syringes and needles

    The transfusion of unscreened tainted blood

    Sexual practices that lead to exposure to blood exposure, such as anal intercourse

    While less common, the virus can be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy

However, hepatitis C is not spread through breast milk, food, water, or casual contact such as hugging, kissing and sharing food or drinks with an infected person.

Symptoms. The incubation period for hepatitis C ranges from 2 weeks to 6 months. Following initial infection, approximately 80% of people do not exhibit any symptoms. Those who are acutely symptomatic may exhibit fever, fatigue, decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, grey-colored stool, joint pain, and jaundice (yellowing of skin and the whites of the eyes).

Testing and diagnosis. Because new infections are usually asymptomatic, few people are diagnosed when the infection is recent. In those people who go on to develop chronic hepatitis C infection, the infection is also often undiagnosed because it remains asymptomatic until many years later resulting in serious liver damage.


Hepatitis C infection is diagnosed in two steps:

    Serological test for antibodies for hepatitis C. which would show infection has taken place

   If the test is positive for antibodies, a nucleic acid test for ribonucleic acid (RNA) is needed to confirm chronic infection because about 30% of people infected with HCV spontaneously clear the infection by a strong immune response without the need for treatment. Although no longer infected, they will still test positive for the antibodies.

After a person has been diagnosed with chronic HCV infection, they should have an assessment of the degree of liver damage (fibrosis and cirrhosis). This can be done by liver biopsy or through a variety of non-invasive tests. The degree of liver damage is used to guide treatment decisions and control of the disease.

There is no effective vaccine against hepatitis C, therefore prevention of infection relies upon reducing the risks of exposure to the virus. The following list provides some examples of primary prevention interventions:

    Safe and appropriate use of health care injections

    Safe handling and disposal of sharps and waste

    Preventing dirty needles used in drug injections

    Testing of donated blood for potential diseases

    Prevention of exposure to blood during intercourse

    Promotion of correct and consistent use of condoms

    General cleanliness with everything that touches the body

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