What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that mainly affects the liver organ of a person. The hepatitis C virus is of family Flaviviridae and is sized 55-65nm, enveloped positive-sense single-stranded RNA virus. Currently, there seven genotypes known and they are named as type one to seven. Out of the seven genotypes, type 1 is the most common in the United States, South America and, Europe. It can cause serious and chronic damage to the liver. Although this type of virus is considered to be serious, most people who are affected by it present no symptoms. Some symptoms if ever there are any include fever, pain in the abdomen, jaundice or dark-colored urine. Since there are no apparent symptoms that may ever even after several decades of being infected. Dubbed as a “silent” infection, the virus is difficult and does not become apparent until there is significant and symptomatic damage done to the liver organ.

Stages of Hepatitis C

Since there are no symptoms that manifest when a person is affected with hepatitis C, there are many available medical histories that have been studied and used to identify the different stages of progression of this virus. See below:

  • Incubation Period. Just like any virus, the hepatitis C virus requires an incubation period once it affects a certain person’s body. The incubation period usually lasts from 14 to 80 days, averaging at 45 days and starting from the day of the first exposure.
  • Acute Hepatitis C. This stage usually occurs in the first 6 months of the illness - some people are treated with the virus if this is detected early while some are able to get rid of the virus on their own.
  • Chronic Hepatitis C. If the virus hasn’t been cleared from your body after 6 months, this means that the virus has progressed into chronic hepatitis C. Most people who have progressed into this stage experience fatigue, loss of appetite and pain the muscles or joints.
  • Cirrhosis. When a person has been diagnosed with cirrhosis due to Hepatitis C virus, this means that their liver has been seriously affected by the virus - their healthy liver cells have been replaced with scar tissue. This significantly affects the function of the liver which is to filter toxin from the blood, sugar storage and production of enzymes to digest food. The scar tissue gradually builds up every time the liver is repaired and forms tough scar tissue.
  • Liver Cancer. Liver cancer is likely to occur if you have already reached the cirrhosis stage. With regular screenings and testings, this stage can be prevented or detected early.

Testing and Diagnosis

In some cases of those who are affected by the Hepatitis C virus, there are no symptoms manifested. The following test is used to detect if a person with Hepatitis C:

  • Antibody Test. This type of test is used to detect and screen if hepatitis C antibodies are present in your bloodstream.
  • Hepatitis C RNA Test. This type of test is conducted to confirm diagnosis since the antibody test may show hepatitis C antibodies even if a person has already cleared through the viral infection. The RNA test detects the genetic material of the virus and a positive result indicates that the patient is still exposed to the hepatitis C virus.
  • Hepatitis C Genotype Test. Once a patient has been confirmed with the presence of the Hepatitis C virus in his bloodstream, the genotype test is done to properly assess what genotype has been acquired so a proper treatment plan can be administered.
  • Liver Panel. This type of testing is relevant to those whose symptoms are more evident and their liver has already been damaged or has been suffering from Chronic C hepatitis. A liver panel is a group of tests conducted to assess the overall health of the liver organ.

Modes of Transmission

Below are possible ways of transmitting Hepatitis C virus:

  • Blood to blood transmission. The virus can be transmitted from one person to another if blood is transferred between them or the quipment that passes blood is used between the two of them.
  • Sexual Transmission. This type of transmission is very low risk but still very possible to occur.

Risk Factors

There are many factors that can increase the risk of a person of acquiring Hepatitis C virus, some of which include:

  • Sharing of needles or usage of unsterile medical equipment. Hepatitis C virus can be transmitted through blood so sharing of equipments such as needles here blood can pass through increases the likelihood of the virus being transmitted from one person to another. Blood transfusion is also another main cause of acquiring Hepatitis C.
  • Exposure to drugs through injection or inhalation. People who have used illicit drugs are also at high risk to acquire the hepatitis C virus.
  • Has HIV or a weak immune system. Those who suffer from a weak immune system or immune system-related conditions are also highly susceptible to hepatitis C virus.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who are at high risk of getting Hepatitis C virus?

Those who were born from 1945 to 1965 are at higher risk of getting the hepatitis C virus and those who have received a blood transfusion, hemodialysis or have used common medical equipment where blood passes through.

Healthcare personnel who are exposed to blood are also at a higher risk as well as people who share personal items such as a razor.

What are the complications of having Hepatitis C?

Although the virus may progress for a long time, there are complications that might occur. These include scarring of the liver which consequently leads to failure of the liver to function and liver cancer. Additionally, those who have acquired hepatitis C are also at higher risk of having Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B.

Can Hepatitis C be cured?

Yes. If detected early and with a confirmed diagnosis, antiviral medication is administered to a person affected by hepatitis C. The medication is administered in consideration that the person has no other conditions that might be affected by this medication.

I have been diagnosed with Hepatitis C, is it possible to be infected again?

Yes. Being a viral infection it is possible to be infected again. Those who suffer from severe liver damage and have undergone a liver transplant even have a higher chance of the virus recurring again in their body.

Are there any other symptoms presented if Hepatitis C is left untreated?

The most significant and apparent symptom that will be present if Hepatitis C is left untreated is the scarring and damage of the liver. The progress of the damage can go on for years unnoticed. More evident symptoms include jaundice and muscle or joints pain.

Additional Resources


World Health Organization

  • https://www.who.int
  • World Health Organization directs and coordinates the world’s response to HIV/AIDS.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention



  • https://targethiv.org
  • TargetHIV is the one-stop source of technical assistance and training resources for HRSA's Ryan White HIV/AIDS program.


Written by Mark Riegel, MD

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