Infectious illness of the liver caused by the HCV virus.
20-30 per cent of sufferers recover spontaneously from acute hepatitis C. In the remaining cases the hepatitis becomes chronic, with the risk of degenerating into cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer.
In Europe and in Switzerland about 0.7-1 per cent of the population has the hepatitis C virus.
Through contaminated blood (e.g. transfusions received before 1989), particularly by sharing syringes, interventions with instruments not sufficiently sterilised, tattooing and piercing with non-sterile instruments.
Only very rarely through unprotected sex, by an infected mother to a neonate.
Acute hepatitis C is asymptomatic (or clinically silent) in 80-90% of cases. When it is symptomatic, there are signs of tiredness, headache, fever, nausea, abdominal pains, diarrhoea and in many cases jaundice (yellow coloration of eyes and skin), with clear faeces and dark urine. Chronic hepatitis is for the most part asymptomatic (only symptom may be chronic tiredness).
By the discovery of specific antibodies produced by the immune system against the virus and, subsequently, the direct discovery of the virus by the PCR method.
It is estimated that about half of the persons infected have not yet been diagnosed.
Until quite recently it was treated with a combination of ribavirin pegylated interferon, a long-term treatment with numerous side-effects, now treated with combinations of new drugs (DAA) characterised by high efficacy, few side-effects and short-term treatment. In advanced stages, liver transplant may be successfully carried out.
No vaccine is yet available.
Protection from infection involves avoiding the sharing of syringes and all practices which may involve puncturing or wounding with insufficiently sterilised equipment.