Hepatitis C is a disease caused by a virus that infects the liver. Whether you're just learning about the hepatitis C virus
(HCV) or know a lot about it, here are 10 interesting facts I think everyone needs to know.
- An estimated 3 to 4 million people worldwide are infected with acute hepatitis C each year. In 2006, there were an estimated 19,000 people in the United States newly infected with HCV.
- Egypt has the highest infection rate for a single country in the world, and Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean are the regions with the highest infection rates. The HCV infection rate is a term that describes how many people are getting sick with hepatitis C in a defined population. This number allows scientists to compare one group of people (such as an entire country or continent) to another.
- An estimated 170 million people worldwide have chronic hepatitis C infection. About 3.2 million people in the United States are chronically infected with HCV. If you have hepatitis, you're one among many.
- Hepatitis C virus is more infectious than HIV when comparing risk of transmission by blood-to-blood contact. Both viruses can be spread in this way, but HCV is 10 times more infectious than HIV when comparing direct blood-to-blood contact. This is important to those at risk for HIV exposure. In fact, studies estimate that almost one-third of HIV positive people are co-infected with HCV. However, the risk of HCV through sexual contact is low, specifically when compared to sexual transmission of HIV.
- Hepatitis C was first known as non-A, non-B hepatitis. In 1975, scientists began realizing that many cases of transfusion-associated hepatitis weren't caused by hepatitis A or B. In 1989, the virus was "discovered" and named hepatitis C.
- There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, but there are for hepatitis A and B. The hepatitis C virus is tricky for scientists to work with because it can easily mutate and has many genotypes. There is ongoing research for HCV vaccine development.
- To help describe how serious hepatitis C can be, you can estimate using your "twenties:" About 20% of people infected with hepatitis C virus will completely recover, but 20% of the rest will develop cirrhosis. Of those who develop cirrhosis, about 20% will develop liver cancer. Remember, these numbers are just estimations and they can change over time. Learn about 10 complications of chronic hepatitis.
- If you were exposed to the hepatitis C virus, it could be over five months before you would even realize it. This is because it takes a period of time after being exposed for the virus to make enough copies of itself to do damage to the liver. This is called the incubation period and is different for each virus.
- Don't look for symptoms to tell if you have hepatitis C. The majority of people with acute hepatitis C never develop the traditional symptoms associated with viral hepatitis. However, if you would like to learn what these traditional symptoms that might be, check out the Big List of Symptoms.
- The single most risky behavior for exposing yourself to hepatitis C is sharing and reusing dirty needles. Hepatitis C is only transmitted through contact with infected blood and though this can happen in different ways, the most common way in the U.S. is sharing needles and works. Learn how to protect yourself from hepatitis C. Though HCV can be transmitted through sex, it's rare.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. July 10, 2008. Hepatitis C.
New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Hepatitis C and HIV.
World Health Organization Hepatitis C.