Hepatitis C Overview

Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis c virus. Most patients with hepatitis C are asymptomatic and have chronic infection. The virus persists in the liver in roughly 85% of patients after acute infection. The disease is transmitted through body fluids.

Risk factors include intravenous drug use, tattoos, blood transfusion and sexual exposure. Most patients with acute hepatitis C show no symptoms. Occasionally, acute infection can cause yellowing of the skin or eyes. Patients with chronic infection are typically asymptomatic until they develop end stage liver disease or cirrhosis.

Diagnosis of hepatitis C is made in patients with abnormal liver enzymes by detecting an antibody to hepatitis C virus in the blood. Sophisticated testing can also be done to determine the quantity of the virus in the bloodstream. A liver biopsy may be necessary to determine the degree of inflammation and/or permanent damage to the liver.

Hepatitis C can be effectively treated. Current regimens include injection with a medication called interferon in combination with oral medications. Recent studies suggest that in the near future, effective treatment will be available using only oral medications. Left untreated, hepatitis C can progress into cirrhosis or even hepatocellular carcinoma. A vaccine to prevent hepatitis C is currently not available.