Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver caused by the Hepatitis C virus. Most patients with Hepatitis C are asymptomatic and have chronic infection. The acute infection is often asymptomatic and causes no symptoms. The virus persists in the liver in about 85% of patients after acute infection. The disease is transmitted from infected body fluids. Risk factors include intravenous drug use, tattoos, blood transfusion, and rarely, sexual exposure.
Most patients with acute Hepatitis C have no symptoms, or mild symptoms such as fatigue. Occasionally acute infection can cause yellowing of the skin or eyes, such as jaundice. Patients with chronic infection are typically asymptomatic until they develop end stage liver disease or cirrhosis.
Diagnosis of Hepatitis C is made in patients with abnormal liver enzymes by detecting an antibody to Hepatitis C virus in the blood, which is an immune response to the infection. Sophisticated testing can also be done to determine the quantity of virus in the bloodstream. A liver biopsy may be necessary to determine the degree of inflammation and/or permanent damage to the liver.
Hepatitis C can effectively be treated. Current regimens consist of oral therapy taken for 8-12 weeks which results in a nearly 100% cure rate. Left untreated, Hepatitis C can lead to complications such as cirrhosis and/or hepatocellular carcinoma. A vaccine to prevent Hepatitis C is currently not available.