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What is Hepatitis C Virus?

  • Hepatitis C is inflammation of the liver due to the virus called Hepatitis C (HCV).
  • HCV is diagnosed by blood tests (See "Tests and investigations" for more information).
  • HCV was first discovered in 1989. As it is a relatively new infection doctors and researchers are learning and understanding more about HCV all the time.
  • HCV is usually spread when the blood/body fluids of an infected person enters the body of a person who is not infected. (See the section "How is HCV transmitted?" for more information.)
  • In the first few weeks of infection approximately 1 in every five people will clear the virus from their blood themselves. Their own body makes antibodies, which attack the HCV and clear it from the blood.
  • There are 6 known genotypes or strains of HCV. They are numbered 1 through to 6. Genotypes 1,2,3 and 4 are the most common types in Ireland.
  • 8 out of 10 people will have no signs or symptoms of HCV (see Signs and Symptoms for further information).
  • It is unsure how many people are infected with HCV but it is thought to be between 1 and 3 percent of the population are infected.
  • In most people HCV is thought to be a slow progressing disease as long as you look after your health i.e. do not drink alcohol, do not expose yourself to any further risk (stop taking drugs), eat healthy and do not become overweight.
  • There is no vaccination for HCV.
  • The current treatment for HCV is a weekly injection of interferon and tablets every day for 24-48 weeks depending on the genotype. (See Treatment options for further information).
  • It is important to get referred and to continue attending doctors' appointments. As a small proportion of people with HCV will develop serious complications such as cirrhosis (serious scarring of the liver), liver failure or liver cancer.
  • Some of the people with serious liver disease may require a liver transplant.