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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.

In Australia, there are roughly 114,000 people living with hepatitis C. Of these, one in six remain undiagnosed. Eight thousand people in Australia are diagnosed with hepatitis C each year and 530 die each year from hepatitis C related disease.

Hepatitis C disease progression

One in four infected by the hepatitis C virus will clear the virus spontaneously within 12 months. The remaining three quarters will likely go on to develop chronic hepatitis C. Of these about five to ten per cent will develop cirrhosis at around 20 years after infection. Four to five per cent of those will develop serious liver disease and one to two per cent will develop liver cancer. (Source) Factors which affect outcome include:

  • age when first infected
  • alcohol use
  • co-infection with hepatitis B virus and/or HIV, and
  • obesity

Hepatitis C symptoms

During the initial (acute) phase of infection a small number of people may experience flu-like symptoms. However, most people do not experience any symptoms for the first 10 years or more (if at all) after their initial infection, which may go unnoticed.

Symptoms of long-term (chronic) infection can range from mild to severe and can occur continuously or in bouts. The most common symptoms of chronic hepatitis C infection are:

  • fatigue or tiredness;
  • lethargy;
  • nausea and discomfort in the abdomen;
  • feeling ill after consuming alcohol or fatty food; and
  • depression

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