The Curious Progression of Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C, a serious infection that is passed between people only by blood-to-blood contact was only given its official name in 1989. Before that, as scientists were trying to determine if it was different from the other types of Hepatitis and if so how, it was simply referred to as non-A or non-B Hepatitis. What an odd name for a disease that currently infects at least four million people in the Untied States and over one hundred and seventy million people globally.

Hepatitis C is an odd one because so much of the time it is not obvious when someone has the infection. Seventy percent of those infected show no symptoms, this makes it very hard to diagnose. It is believed that during the acute stage, the first six months, twenty five percent of people who are infected become uninfected for reasons that no one is able to determine.  This is known as spontaneous viral clearance.

For the other seventy five percent of those infected with the Hepatitis C virus, also now as HCV, it becomes chronic.   The only problem with these figures is that they are a bit of a guess.  The number of people that are lucky enough to have a spontaneous viral clearance could be much higher based on the fact that so many people don't realize that they are infected until the HCV has been around for a long time and symptoms start to show. There are no tests that will be able to tell researchers what the exact figures are at this time.

At one time it was common practice to not treat those who were considered to still be in the acute stage. This was because they hoped that by doing nothing it would just go away.  Recent studies are showing that was wrong and that if Hepatitis C is treated early there is a ninety percent success rate. Not only that but the treatment time is cut in half.

Once passed the infection period of six months the Hepatitis C virus now becomes considered a chronic infection.  Interestingly of those who remain untreated it will take thirty percent of them about twenty years to develop cirrhosis of the liver. The next one third will take another ten years on top of that and the last third will take so long that they will die before the liver develops the cirrhosis. There are upwards of one hundred and fifty thousand new cases of HCV each year in the Untied States. People with HIV are very likely to also be infected with HCV as both diseases have similar transmission requirements. Around seventy percent of all intravenous drug users have Hepatitis C.

Research continues on what can be done to control this very serious infection. Unlike Hepatitis A or B there is currently no vaccine.  But recent studies have made some progress and a new vaccine is in the testing stages with human subjects. So far it is having significantly successful results. The studies are continuing. 

Hepatitis news on the Web


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