Hepatitis is a general term that means inflammation of the liver. The Ancient Greek word hepa refers to the liver, and itis means inflammation (as in appendicitis, arthritis, and pancreatitis).

Inflammation of the liver—hepatitis—has various possible causes, including:

  • Toxins and chemicals such as excessive amounts of alcohol
  • Autoimmune diseases that cause the immune system to attack healthy tissues in the body
  • Fat which may cause fatty liver disease
  • Microorganisms, including viruses

Hepatitis C is a potentially contagious, but curable disease caused by a virus that infects the liver. The bloodborne virus, called hepatitis C virus (HCV), can cause lifelong infection, fibrosis (mild to moderate liver scarring), cirrhosis (serious liver scarring), liver cancer, liver failure, and death.

There are two phases of hepatitis C infection—acute and chronic. Acute refers to a new HCV infection that is less than six months old. An HCV infection that lasts more than six months is chronic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 3.5 million (range 2.5 million-4.7 million) people in the United States are chronically infected with HCV. The most recent CDC data estimates 29,718 new cases in 2013. Chronic HCV infection accounts for more than 19,000 deaths each year in the United States. Worldwide, it’s estimated that up to 150 million people are living with HCV.

Last Revised: July 23, 2015