Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is common cause of liver infection. Currently it is a major cause of chronic liver disease, cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma, and a common indication for liver transplantation in many countries. The rate of hepatitis C infection has dramatically decreased during the past decade, but still there are about 170 million chronically infected persons (this is about 3% of the global population).
Expected duration of Hepatitis C
Infection with HCV can cause both acute and chronic liver disease. Most cases with acute hepatitis C infection are not diagnosed because the majority of acutely infected individuals are asymptomatic. Symptoms develop in about 20% to 30% of infected people in acute stage. Symptoms usually star about 3 to 12 weeks after exposure.
HCV is self-limiting in disease in about 15--25 per cent of patients who are infected. Most infected people (about 75—85 per cent) do not clear the virus by 6 months, and the infection progresses to chronic hepatitis. The risk of progression to chronic infection is affected by many factors including the age at time of infection, gender, ethnicity, and the development of jaundice during the acute infection. You are lower risk of developing chronic infection if you are young at the time of infection. According to studies people with HCV infection at younger age, less than 25 years, are less likely to progress to chronic hepatitis C than those infected at older ages. Women are less likely than men to progress to chronic in HCV infection. About 10—15 per cent of individuals with chronic HCV infection develop cirrhosis of liver. Factors which influence progression to cirrhosis include chronic alcohol use, age of initial HCV infection, degree of inflammation and fibrosis on liver biopsy, HIV or HBV coinfection. About 10—20 per cent of people with chronic HCV infections progress to end-stage liver disease over one or two decades.
Some people with chronic HCV infection develop extrahepatic manifestations. Tissues and organs besides liver which are affected by chronic HCV infection include kidney, skin, blood, bones and joints.
Treatment for HCV can cure the infection in some chronic cases. Combination treatment with interferon alfa and ribavirin can reduce the risk of progression to cirrhosis, hepatocellular cancer, and end stage liver disease.