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What is the hepatitis C virus?

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Quick Answer

The Hepatitis C virus, which is sometimes referred to as HCV, is a bloodborne RNA virus that causes the liver disease Hepatitis C, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of 2014, approximately 3.2 million people in the United States are affected by chronic HCV infection.

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Hepatitis C is transmitted in a variety of ways, but the most common is through intravenous drug use and the sharing of needles among drug users. Inadequately sterilized needles and syringes in health care settings can also be a source of transmission, notes the World Health Organization. In countries where blood and blood products from donors are not effectively screened, the virus that causes HCV is transmitted via blood transfusion. HCV can be transmitted from one partner to another during sex, and a pregnant mother can pass the virus to her baby, although these methods of transmission are less likely than other modes.

Hepatitis C affects as many as 150 million people around the world, according to WHO, and as many as 500,000 people die from Hepatitis C or related liver diseases each year. Hepatitis C has an incubation period of up to six months, and up to 80 percent of people who are infected are not symptomatic. A large number of people who have Hepatitis C go on to develop liver cancer or cirrhosis of the liver.

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