Hepatitis C is a major disease in the United States. It is estimated that about 3.2 million people living in the country have the virus. Globally, the number is believed to be at around 143 million i.e. 2% of the world population. Ironically, Hepatitis C wasn’t known until 1981.
What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the Hepatitis C virus (HCV). This virus is usually a small, enveloped and positive-sense single-stranded RNA virus of the family Flaviviridae. The Hepatitis C virus can also lead to other chronic liver diseases.
A patient can be described as having chronic hepatitis C if he/she has been infected with the HPV virus for more than six months. Unfortunately, when someone is exposed to Hepatitis C, he/she has potentially 80% chance of developing a chronic infection. Usually, such a person will be completely asymptomatic i.e. exhibiting no symptoms of the disease.
Causes of Hepatitis C
The most common way of contracting Hepatitis C in the United States is through intravenous drug use (IDU). Other notable routes of transmission include tattoos, body piercings, blood transfusions and unsafe medical procedure. The last two are usually prevalent in developing countries. Even though the virus is highly infectious, it is necessary to note that there is a less than 5% chance of a partner contracting Hepatitis C from their infected spouse or a baby contracting it from his/her infected mother.
Diagnosis of Hepatitis C
Usually, half of the people living with Hepatitis C are not even aware of their conditions. In fact, the majority of these people get to know of their conditions during routine physical examinations with their doctors.
The standard diagnostic tests for hepatitis C include:
- HCV antibody enzyme immunoassay or ELISA
- Quantitative HCV RNA polymerase chain reaction (PCR)
- Recombinant immunoblot assay.
- Typically, the HCV can be detected as early as 1-2 weeks after infection using the PCR method.