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Hepatitis

Causes

Hepatitis C is a potentially life-threatening infectious liver disease. Research results reveal that hepatitis C affects about 150.000 people in the United States each year, many patients with the acute form of the disease developing chronic hepatitis C in time. Furthermore, most patients with untreated chronic hepatitis C can in time develop cirrhosis and even end-stage liver disease. Statistics also indicate that around 170.000.000 people worldwide suffer from chronic liver diseases, many of them developing complications over the years.

The main cause of hepatitis C is infection with a virus. The virus responsible for causing hepatitis C and many other forms of liver disease (hepatic fibrosis, complicated cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma) is called hepatitis C virus (HCV). Although there are many risk factors in the occurrence of liver disease, infection with HCV is considered to be the major cause of hepatitis C. Hepatitis C virus is a strong infectious agent in the flaviviridae family and it mostly infects humans and primates. Hepatitis C virus is the main cause of hepatitis C and other infectious liver diseases in humans and chimpanzees, generating similar symptoms in both species.

Hepatitis C virus can be contracted through direct contact with blood or blood products. In the past, compromised blood transfusions were a common cause of hepatitis C transmission, until new effective methods of screening the donated blood became available. The main cause of hepatitis C transmission these days is considered to be the contact with inappropriately sterilized medical utensils, such as needles and syringes. A single drop of infected blood is sufficient for transmitting hepatitis C virus to humans.

Any contaminated object that enters in contact with healthy blood can spread HCV inside the entire organism, causing disease. Other potential causes of hepatitis C transmission are the practice of unsafe sex and intravenous or intra-nasal drug use. Although the cases of sexually-transmitted hepatitis C are rare, under certain circumstances, people can contract HCV by exchanging secretions of the sexual organs (vaginal secretions, sperm). Drug addicts also expose themselves to a serious risk of contracting hepatitis C virus when sharing needles and syringes.

Medical treatments available today are effective only for a small category of patients with hepatitis C. While people with mild, uncomplicated forms of hepatitis C respond well to specific medical treatments, people who suffer from chronic hepatitis C usually experience a relapse after they stop receiving medications. Considering the fact that infection with a virus is the main cause of hepatitis C, most medical treatments include strong antiviral medications. However, combination treatments are the most effective means of overcoming hepatitis C in present. Combination medical treatments involve the use of interferon (a protein produced in small quantities by the human body) and antiviral medications, such as ribavirin.

Due to the fact that medical treatments available today are not entirely curative, it is important to take steps in eradicating the actual cause of hepatitis C. Modern medicine should soon be able to find new, effective means of preventing possible infections with hepatitis C virus. An appropriate vaccine against hepatitis C virus would be able to completely eliminate the cause of hepatitis C, rendering the human body immune to this type of virus.