Hepatitis C is a blood borne virus contracted when the blood of an infected person enters the blood stream of another person. It was first identified as “non-A, non-B hepatitis” around 1973 (although more recent analysis of blood from as early as 1948 shows the presence of hepatitis C). It was not until the late 1980’s that genetic testing allowed for a full analysis, identifying the individual properties of hepatitis C which had kept medical and scientific staff baffled for decades.
Chronic hepatitis C infection can result in progressive liver inflammation (viral hepatitis), which may progress to scarring (fibrosis and cirrhosis). If left untreated, inflammation can lead to mild, moderate, or serious liver disease and in some cases, liver cancer and liver failure. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplants and liver cancer in Australia.
Out of 100 people that contract hepatitis C, 75–85 people will develop chronic infection, 60–70 people will develop chronic liver disease, five to 20 people will develop cirrhosis over the course of their chronic infection and one to five people will die of complications including hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer).
Those who contract hepatitis C and are able to clear the virus naturally from the body within six months will not develop immunity and a separate future infection is possible. Hepatitis C can be treated and cured in most people who are able to access treatment.
In Australia, hepatitis C has a high diagnosis rate but a relatively low treatment rate. Whilst recent treatment advances have led to a significant improvement in rates of treatment, there is still a critical gap between the number of people living with hepatitis C and the number of undergoing treatment.
There is a significant social stigma associated with hepatitis C, which is a barrier to people seeking testing, treatment, and care.
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Hepatitis C Therapy Update Lisa C. Casey, William M. Lee CurrOpinGastroenterol. 2012;28(3):188-192. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/802844
Gidding HF, Topp L, Middleton M et al. The epidemiology of hepatitis C in Australia: notifications, treatment uptake and liver transplantations, 1997-2006. Journal of Gastroenterology Hepatology 2009; 24:1648-54.