Hepatitis C Virus – Infection, Transmission & Diseases


Hepatitis C virus is an RNA virus that is found worldwide. It is the cause of hepatitis C.

What is the hepatitis C virus?

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is an enveloped virus with a single strand of RNA . It belongs to the Flaviviridae family and the Hepacivirus genus. The positive polarity virus is the only known RNA virus, other than retroviruses , capable of causing chronic infectious disease .

The virus was first mentioned in 1974 as non-A non-B hepatitis virus. However, it was not until 1989/1990 that the pathogen was sequenced, which was then referred to as the hepatitis C virus. The entire genome frequency of the virus is subject to patent protection. The patent holder is currently the pharmaceutical company Novartis.

Together with the Epstein-Barr virus , the causative agent of glandular fever , the hepatitis B virus and the human herpesvirus 8 , HCV is one of the viruses responsible for most cancers worldwide . Around 10 to 15 percent of all cancers are caused by an infection with these human viruses.

Occurrence, Distribution & Properties

Humans are the only natural host of the hepatitis C virus. Although monkeys are also susceptible to infection, it is extremely rare for them to develop a chronic infection. The virus is spread worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) assumes that there are more than 170 million virus carriers. The disease does not break out in all carriers, so the number of sick people is somewhat lower.

The prevalence is highest in countries like Japan, Egypt or Mongolia. In Egypt, for example, the high prevalence rate is due to contaminated cannulas used in the treatment of schistosomiasis . Schistosomiasis is a worm disease that is spread by intermediate hosts in warm inland waters. In Europe and the US, the prevalence ratio is less than 0.02. While subtypes 1a, 1b and 3a are found in Europe and America, subtype 1b dominates in Asia. Genotype 4 predominates in Africa and genotype 6 in Hong Kong and Vietnam. Genotypes 2 and 3, although found worldwide, are present to a lesser extent.

The hepatitis C virus is transmitted parenterally. Parenteral means “bypassing the intestines”. Infection usually occurs through contaminated blood products or blood . Sexual transmission is extremely rare. Risk factors for infection with the hepatitis C virus are intravenous drug abuse , piercings and tattoos. Dialysis is also a risk factor. This is especially true for dialysis performed before 1991. Before 1991, the virus had not been sequenced, so it could not be detected. In one third of the patients, the route of transmission is unknown.

Diseases & Ailments

In the acute phase, hepatitis C is usually asymptomatic or associated with only a few symptoms. In 85 percent of all cases of infection, the disease is therefore not diagnosed in the early stages. After an incubation period of two weeks to two months, those affected suffer from exhaustion , tiredness or loss of appetite . The joints may hurt or the infected person may feel tension or pressure in the upper right abdomen. Jaundice develops in a small number of those affected . Because of the liver damage, the urine may be dark and the stools may be darkbe clay colored. If these liver-typical symptoms are absent, the disease in the acute phase is only perceived by most sufferers as a mild flu-like infection .

In more than 70 percent of all cases of illness, however, hepatitis C takes a chronic course after the acute phase. If left untreated in the chronic stage, the infection leads to cirrhosis of the liver in 25 percent of patients . Liver cirrhosis is characterized by chronic degeneration of liver tissue. This creates a nodular tissue structure in the liver , which severely restricts the function of the organ. In addition, more connective tissue forms instead of the liver function cells.

Liver function may be restricted with regard to its ability to synthesize albumins and/or coagulation factors. The consequences are an increased tendency to bleed and the formation of edema . Typical symptoms of cirrhosis of the liver are also ascites , enlarged spleen , reddening of the palms of the hands, a red lacquered tongue and Caput medusae , a clear vascular drawing on the abdomen.

Cirrhosis of the liver is also a so-called facultative precancerous condition. This means that a malignant cancer can develop on the basis of cirrhosis. This malignant tumor of the liver tissue is called hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).

In the course of hepatitis C, other antibody-mediated diseases can also develop. This includes, for example, cryoglobulinemia . It is an inflammation of blood vessels ( vasculitis ) that is associated with joint pain, muscle pain and neuropathies . Polyarteritis nodosa is also a vasculitis that can develop on the basis of hepatitis C. Those affected experience non-specific symptoms such as fever , night sweats and weight loss . A large proportion of those affected also suffer from nerve disorders . Also an involvement of the CNS(Central nervous system) with [stroke|strokes]] is possible.

Hepatitis C can also cause Sjögren’s syndrome . Sjögren’s syndrome belongs to the group of collagen diseases . In this disease, the immune cells attack the tear and salivary glands and cause inflammatory changes in the central nervous system and internal organs .

Secure causal relationships also exist between hepatitis C and insulin resistance , diabetes mellitus and depressive symptoms . Standard therapy for hepatitis C is a combination of different antivirals . Depending on the genotype, different drugs are used. Severe side effects are to be expected in the treatment of hepatitis C.

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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.