Hepatitis C Is the Most Common Blood-Borne Virus in the U.S.

Hepatitis is a general term that means inflammation of the liver. The Ancient Greek word heap 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 there are an estimated 3.5 million (the range is 2.5 million to 4.7 million) people in the United States chronically infected with hepatitis C.