Hepatitis C: introduction

Hepatitis C is a slowly progressive and often silent disease of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). HCV was identified in 1989 and an antibody test to detect its current or past presence became available in 1991.

Less than 10% of HCV infected persons experience an acute symptomatic illness. Around 25-30% of infected persons spontaneously clear their virus shortly after becoming infected. The remaining 70-75% of HCV infected persons, who fail to clear their virus, develop chronic infection and consequently are at risk of ultimately developing liver failure and / or liver cancer. HCV chronically infected persons generally remain asymptomatic for many years, although some individuals report a variety of symptoms such as fatigue, muscle ache, weight loss, abdominal pain and nausea. Of those chronically infected persons, 5-15% are estimated to develop cirrhosis of the liver within 20 years of infection; factors associated with more rapid disease progression include heavy alcohol consumption and co-infection with HIV.

There is no vaccine available at present to prevent infection with HCV.  However, treatment with Direct Acting Antiviral (DAA) therapy leads to sustained viral clearance approximately 90% of patients.