What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is an inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The virus can cause both acute and chronic hepatitis. In adults, it often becomes a lifelong illness that can be severe and lead to liver cirrhosis and cancer.
Globally, an estimated 58 million people have chronic hepatitis C virus infection, with about 1.5 million new infections occurring per year.
The Hepatitis C virus is transmitted through blood.
The hepatitis C virus is found in the blood. Most infections occur due to exposure to infected blood:
unsafe injection practices or unsafe health care: using contaminated needles, syringes or other equipment, e.g. syringes or needles previously used by an infected person to inject drugs, using inadequately sterilized injection equipment in healthcare settings
unscreened blood transfusions (in the past, blood products were not systematically tested for HCV but in Thailand blood donations have been systematically screened for more than 2 decades)
sexual practices that lead to exposure to contaminated blood.
from an infected mother to her child during pregnancy or delivery.
Symptoms at time of infection
Signs usually occur between 2 weeks and 6 months after contamination. Most people (80%) do not present any symptoms; otherwise, they can experience fever, fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite associated or not with jaundice. However, chronic hepatitis C will damage the liver with severe consequences.
Because there are usually no symptoms, many people do not know that they have been infected. Thus, they can transmit the virus to others without knowing. There is no vaccine available for hepatitis C yet. It is usually not known that another person is living with HCV. It is therefore essential to reduce the risk of transmission by avoiding the use of potentially contaminated equipment and protecting oneself during sexual intercourse.
Most infections become chronic. Acute infection and chronic infections are treated with the same medications. Nowadays, antiviral treatments that can cure the infection in 3 months have become more available. In people with liver cirrhosis, treatment may need to be taken during 6 months.