Hepatitis C Home > Chronic Hepatitis C

About 3.9 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis C. This disease causes long-term inflammation of the liver. The cause is an infection with the hepatitis C virus, also known as HCV. Approximately 80 percent of people with the condition have no symptoms -- even after many years. Once a person is diagnosed, treatment may or may not be recommended. When treatment is recommended, it usually involves two medications: peginterferon and ribavirin.

What Is Chronic Hepatitis C?

Chronic hepatitis C is a disease that causes inflammation of the liver. Approximately 300 million people worldwide are infected with the virus responsible, and about 3.9 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis C. This represents about 1.8 percent of the population.
 
An estimated 8,000 to 10,000 people a year die from liver disease caused by chronic hepatitis C.
 

What Causes It?

The cause of chronic hepatitis C is an infection with the hepatitis C virus, or HCV for short. The virus is most commonly spread when a person comes in contact with infected blood (see Hepatitis C Transmission).
 
When a person is infected with HCV, the virus travels through the blood to the liver, where it begins to make as many copies of itself as possible. The body sends in special cells in an attempt to destroy the virus. In about 15 percent of cases, these cells are able to completely destroy the hepatitis C virus. This is called acute hepatitis. However, in about 85 percent of people infected with HCV, the body is not able to completely get rid of the virus and they end up having a long-term liver infection. This is called chronic hepatitis C.
 
Just as there are different types of hepatitis viruses, there are also a few different types of the hepatitis C virus itself. These are known as hepatitis C genotypes. The main genotypes are known simply as genotypes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.
 
Genotype 1 is the type most commonly found in the United States. Between 70 and 90 percent of Americans with chronic hepatitis C have this genotype. Genotypes 2 and 3 are less common. Only 10 to 20 percent of infected people in this country have either of these genotypes.
 
Knowing the genotype is important because it can play a role in the success of treatment.
 
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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