Hepatitis C

Fast facts

  • Transmitted by blood and percutaneous transfer.
  • Sexual transmission and perinatal transmission are uncommon.
  • In acute infection most people are asymptomatic, but about 75 percent will become chronically infected.
  • Chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections carry a high risk of liver damage, cirrhosis, and liver cancer (hepatocellular cancer – HCC).
  • HCV is slowly progressive but excessive alcohol intake and co-infection (with hepatitis B or HIV) speed this up.
  • Treatment is more effective if given early.
  • HCV is curable – with the newer direct-acting antivirals (DAAs) up to 95 percent of patients are cured (sustained virological response – SVR).

For further information on hepatitis C, visit the Resource for patients.

 Chronic hepatitis C

  • More than 250,000 Australians have the hepatitis C virus resulting in up to 630 deaths from liver cancer and liver failure each year.
  • Around 25 percent of people will clear the virus naturally in the first year.
  • For the remaining 75 per cent of people the infection continues - if not treated - for the rest of their lives. This is called chronic or long-term hepatitis C.
  • Unlike many other diseases which produce immunity after initial infection, hepatitis C does not provide immunity after clearing or treating the virus therefore infection can occur again (re-infection) following repeated exposure. 
  • Persons with chronic hepatitis C can now be cured of their infection. Cure is measured by sustained virologic response (SVR) is associated with substantial reduction in liver cancer, liver failure and mortality.

 Genotypes

  • There are several different 'families' of the hepatitis C virus called ‘genotypes.’ They have slightly different RNA or genetic make-up.
  • There are thought to be at least six different genotypes of hepatitis C in Australia, numbered 1 to 6. Different subgroups of these are called 1a, 1b and so on.
  • The most common genotypes found in Australia are genotype 1 (54 percent), genotype 3 (36 percent) and genotype 2 (6 percent). Fortunately, these genotypes also have the highest chance of cure with treatment (around 95 percent).
  • Genotypes 4 to 6, while uncommon in Australia, still have cure rates over 90 percent.