Hepatitis C Home > Hepatitis C Virus

The hepatitis C virus is a small, single-stranded RNA virus in the Flaviviridae family. The virus travels within the blood and then enters liver cells and uses them to make more of the virus. A person's immune system tries to destroy the virus by sending in special cells and releasing several natural chemicals. This response to the infection causes hepatitis (inflammation of the liver).

What Is the Hepatitis C Virus?

Hepatitis C is a disease that causes inflammation of the liver. While different things can cause other types of hepatitis, a specific virus (the hepatitis C virus) causes hepatitis C. This virus is also known as HCV.

Understanding Viruses and the Hepatitis C Virus

A virus is a tiny piece of genetic material that is surrounded by a protective coat of protein. This genetic material acts as a blueprint for the virus to make more copies of itself inside your body. A virus has only one purpose: to make as much of itself as possible. There are many types of viruses, such as those that cause the common cold. Each virus tends to infect a particular area of the body.
The hepatitis C virus is a small, enveloped, single-stranded RNA virus in the Flaviviridae family. The hepatitis C virus travels within the blood and then is able to enter liver cells and then use those cells to make more viruses. As more and more of the hepatitis C virus is made in the liver cells, the cells can become damaged and may even die.

How Common Are Infections With the Hepatitis C Virus?

The hepatitis C virus was first identified in 1989. Since that time, it has been discovered that 170 million people worldwide are infected with HCV. Four million people have been infected in the United States alone, and 3 million are currently carrying the hepatitis C virus. Each year 10,000 people in the United States die from the disease.
People with hepatitis C come from all kinds of backgrounds. They can be rich or poor, male or female, be from any race or culture, and live almost anywhere.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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