Hepatitis C is an inflammation of the liver caused by hepatitis C virus (HCV). (White and Traux, 2007, p.182) It is a blood borne disease and is mostly asymptomatic (even for years in many patients).
“Most people don’t feel sick when they are first infected with hepatitis C. Instead, the virus stays in their liver and causes chronic liver inflammation. However, hepatitis C is a chronic illness (it does not go away.)” (Hepatitis C, familydoctor.org)
Signs and Symptoms
Hepatitis C is asymptomatic hence usually people are diagnosed for hepatitis C when they consult the doctor for some other illness and elevated LFT’s become the first indicators for this disease. As described above hepatitis C does not show any signs and symptoms initially, however, under chronic stages symptoms like “jaundice, fatigue, decreased appetite, dark urine, right upper quadrant pain and elevated liver function tests (LFT’s) etc”. (White and Traux, 2007, p.182)
Hepatitis is blood borne disease hence “breaching the skin and infecting the bloodstream is the most common way that a person contracts the virus.” (Fabry and Narasimhan, 2006, p.16) “The transfusion of blood and blood products, as well as the transplant of organs that have not undergone viral inactivation, are all potential sources of HCV transmission.”
(Epidemiology article) Use of intravenous drugs and sharing needles with potential patients of hepatitis C is also a major cause especially where drugs availability and usage is common. However, everyday practices like “sharing razors, toothbrushes, tattooing (with needles) and body piercing.” (Hepatitis C, family doctor.org)
Sexual transmission of this disease is also possible. Unprotected sex with multiple partners is usually one of the reasons of hepatitis C transmission. “Mother-to-infant transmission of HCV has been observed globally, but the risk has typically been less than 5%, unless the mother is co-infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). There has been no association between HCV transmission and breast-feeding.” (Epidemiology article)
Hospital acquired infection from infected medical instruments or surgical instruments and is possible in areas where sanitary and sterilization techniques are compromised (like developing and under developed countries). Long term dialysis is also a cause of hospital acquired infection. 70-80% of those infected develop chronic infection, which results in cirrhosis in about 20%, typically after a 20-30 years silent period.
Prevalence [or Epidemiology]
“Based on the statistics that are available, it is estimated that 3% of the world population is infected with the hepatitis C virus. Most populations in the Americas, Europe, and South-East Asia have HCV prevalence rates of fewer than 2.5%. In the Western Pacific regions and parts of South America, prevalence rates are higher – between 2.5-4.9%. In contrast, in populations in the Middle East and Africa, HCV prevalence has been shown to range from 1-12%.” (Epidemiology article)