Hepatitis C Virus
When the hepatitis C virus leaves the blood and enters the liver cells, it begins making as many copies of itself as possible.
The immune system tries to destroy the hepatitis C virus by sending in special cells and releasing several natural chemicals. This response to the infection causes the cells in the area to become damaged and swell. This is called inflammation.
The body's immune system is very good at destroying some types of viruses, but others can be a lot harder to remove. In about 15 percent of people with hepatitis C, the immune system is able to completely destroy the virus. Unfortunately, for about 85 percent of infected people, the immune system is not able to completely get rid of the hepatitis C virus, and they end up having a long-term liver infection. This is called chronic hepatitis C.
It is important to know that the hepatitis C virus can affect you much differently than it does someone else. Of the people who have the virus for 20 years, approximately 20 percent -- or 1 out of 5 people -- will have severe scarring (cirrhosis) of the liver.
Just as there are different types of hepatitis viruses, there are also a few different types of the hepatitis C virus itself. Though they all cause hepatitis C, each type of the virus has a slightly different arrangement of its genetic material, in this case called RNA. The specific arrangement of the RNA is called the genotype.
The main hepatitis C genotypes (also known as "subtypes") are known simply as: genotypes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. The genotype is important to know because some genotypes are harder to treat than others.
(The eMedTV article Following Your Hepatitis C Treatment Program explains why knowing the specific genotype of the hepatitis C virus is important.)
Of these different genotypes, genotype 1 is the type most commonly found in the United States. Between 70 to 90 percent of Americans infected with the hepatitis C virus have this genotype.
Hepatitis C virus genotypes 2 and 3 are less common. Only 10 to 20 percent of infected people in the U.S. have either of these genotypes.