Hepatitis C is different from hepatitis B in that the body is generally unable to clear the virus itself, known as ‘spontaneous clearance’, and the infection therefore becomes chronic. Four out of five people develop a chronic infection, which may cause cirrhosis and liver cancer after 15–30 years. There are approximately 150 million people chronically infected with hepatitis C worldwide. In 2000, the WHO estimated that between three and four million people are newly infected every year.
Transmission: Hepatitis C is mainly spread through blood-to-blood contact. In rare cases it can be transmitted through certain sexual practises and during childbirth.
Prevention: There is no vaccination for hepatitis C. It is therefore necessary to reduce risk of exposure, by avoiding sharing needles and other items such as toothbrushes, razors or nail scissors with an infected person. It is also wise to avoid getting tattoos or body piercings from unlicensed facilities.
Treatment: Treatment for chronic hepatitis C aims to eradicate the virus. It often involves a combination of pegylated interferon and ribavirin, and there is increasing use of potent direct acting antiviral drugs, with and without interferon. People with different genotypes respond differently to treatment, some more successfully than others.
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