Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus. A number of people will experience no symptoms, while others will experience symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Left unmanaged, hepatitis C can lead to scarring of the liver and serious liver disease. World-wide, there are an estimated 71 million people living with chronic (long-term) hepatitis C.
There are six main strains, or genotypes, of hepatitis C - genotypes 1 to 6. Each of these genotypes contain numerous subtypes identified by letters such as genotype 1a, 1b and 3a etc. The prevalence of genotypes vary between countries. The main genotypes found in Australia are genotype 1 and genotype 3.
The hepatitis C virus is transmitted by blood-to-bloodstream contact. Infection occurs when blood with hepatitis C virus gets into the bloodstream of another person. The hepatitis C virus can survive outside the body for at least 16 hours, and can still cause infection if it enters a person’s bloodstream during this time.
The presence of hepatitis C virus in the blood is detected with a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test on blood samples. In Australia, everyone is given a screening test – the hepatitis C antibody test – before the PCR test.
There are highly effective cures for hepatitis C with an over 95% success rate, and little or no side effects. Re-treatment options can bring success rates close to 100%. These drugs, known as direct acting antivirals, are available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).