Hepatitis C is a disease condition characterized by inflammation of the liver as a result of infection by a virus known as Hepatitis C virus (HCV). Other viruses that can cause an inflammation of the liver in this way are Hepatitis A virus and the Hepatitis B virus.
Hepatitis C infection is contracted by having direct contact with the bodily fluids or the secretions of an infected individual.  This means that this infection is very contagious. In people who inject drugs, sharing needles is one of the major ways of contracting the virus. The virus can be passed from mother to unborn child. It can be transmitted through blood transfusion or blood products, infected tattoo needles, instruments used for body piercings and through organ transplants.
The Hepatitis C virus is one of the members of the Flaviviridae family of viruses, and it has six known strains or genotypes, including genotype 1- genotype 6 and even within some genotypes, there may be subtypes like genotype 1a and others. Understanding the different strains of his virus is the key to effective management and treatment of the infection.
The Hepatitis C virus is a rapidly multiplying virus with an ability to mutate its surface proteins very quickly so as to evade the attacks of the body’s immune system. Once this virus gets into the blood, it begins to multiply rapidly and create multiple variations of itself in such a way that the body’s immune system finds it impossible to produce antibodies to attack every one of the variations created.
The infection activates the body’s immune system, and this leads to inflammation and the characteristic symptoms of acute infection. Usually, there are no symptoms at all when a person is newly infected. These symptoms may subside, and the infection may no longer create noticeable symptoms until it resurfaces again with symptoms of chronic inflammation in the late stage of the disease.
Chronic inflammation in the liver will lead to the death of liver cells and fibrosis (scarring of the liver). This can progress to liver cirrhosis and consequent liver failure. This condition worsens with alcohol ingestion, HIV infection, immune-suppressing drugs and or infection with another Hepatitis virus.
Hepatitis C infection is one of the leading causes of liver failure in the world and is also a major risk factor for liver cancer. There is no vaccine yet for this virus.
Common Symptoms of Hepatitis C Infection
Most people do not experience any symptoms when they first contract the Hepatitis C virus. Those who do develop symptoms may just experience mild symptoms that may not raise any concern or warrant a visit to the doctor. The serious symptoms of this infection usually arise late in the disease. This is why the symptoms of Hepatitis C infection can be easily divided into the acute stage symptoms and the symptoms of the chronic stage.
Acute Stage Symptoms: Some people may begin to experience the following symptoms a few weeks following infection:
- Abdominal pain felt on the upper right part of the abdomen
- Fever(low grade)
- Loss of appetite
- General stomach discomfort
- Muscle aches
- Joint pains
- Dark urine
- Clay-coloured stool
- Yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice)
- Itching on the skin
- Generally feeling unwell and other unspecific symptoms