Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a disease caused by a virus that infects the liver. Hep C can cause lifelong infection, and over time can cause fibrosis (mild to moderate liver scarring), cirrhosis (serious liver scarring), liver cancer, liver failure and death.
Hepatitis C is blood-borne. To cause a new infection, HCV must pass from the blood of an infected person into the blood of an uninfected (susceptible) person. In other words, HCV is most easily spread through direct blood-to-blood contact. Injection drug users (IDUs) who have shared needles or other injection equipment, including cookers, cotton, and measuring syringes, are at the highest risk of being infected with HCV—between 50 percent and 90 percent of people who got HIV from IDU are also infected with HCV. This is because both viruses can be spread easily through blood and blood products.
While sexual transmission of HCV is relatively rare, being HIV-positive appears to increase the risk for sexual transmission of hepatitis C. During the past decade, outbreaks of sexually transmitted hepatitis C have been reported among HIV-positive men who have sex with men (MSM) in Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Recently, there have been dramatic advances in the treatments available to cure hepatitis C. Currently, about 80 to 90 percent of those who undergo the 12 to 24 weeks of treatment are likely to be cured of the virus. Newer drugs are expected to hit the market at the end of 2014 or early 2015 that should improve such chances for a cure even further. The future drugs should also reduce treatment times and reduce the likelihood that those treated will experience major side effects.
If you're living with HCV, but not HIV (the virus that causes AIDS), begin learning about the infection, its role in causing liver disease and its treatment starting with the following page:
If you are living with both HCV and HIV, we have prepared a separate series of lesson pages, given that hepatitis C can be even more serious and generally involves different treatment strategies in people coinfected with HIV. Begin learning more with the following page: