Hepatitis C is a virus that infects the liver. The virus spreads through any type of blood-to-blood contact.
Globally, about 150 million people are chronically infected with the hepatitis C virus, and more than 350 000 people die every year from hepatitis C?related liver diseases.
More than 233,000 Australians are living with chronic hepatitis C, which is defined as having had the infection for longer than six months. About 25% of those living with chronic hepatitis C in Australia have moderate to severe liver disease.
The symptoms of chronic hepatitis C can take years to emerge, however, liver damage can progress silently and people living with hepatitis C may feel well. Left untreated it can lead to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver cancer and liver failure. It is estimated that around 15% of people living with chronic hepatitis C in Australia have not yet been diagnosed.
Sharing drug injecting equipment is the principle route of hepatitis C transmission in Australia. Needle and syringe programs are effective in helping to stop the spread of hepatitis C. Education about blood awareness and transmission risks is also critical.
There is no vaccine to protect against hepatitis C, but the infection can be prevented, and in many cases, cured. Due to innovative new treatments, there is a high chance for cure rate for most people living with hepatitis C. More treatments are expected to follow as clinical trials continue over the next few years.