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Explained: What is Hepatitis C?

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The Nobel Prize of 2020 was awarded to three scientists for their discovery of the Hepatitis C virus.

Explained: What is Hepatitis C?
Americans Harvey J Alter and Charles M Rice, and British scientist Michael Houghton are the winners of the 2020 Nobel Prize in medicine for the groundbreaking discovery of the Hepatitis C virus. The medicine prize has immense significance at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded the world about the importance of medical research in societies and economies around the world.
What is the Hepatitis virus?
Hepatitis simply means the inflammation of the liver. The functioning of the liver can be adversely affected due to inflammation or damaging of the pivotal organ. Heavy alcohol use, toxins, some medications, and certain medical conditions are all reasons behind hepatitis. However, hepatitis is often caused by a virus.
What are the variants of the Hepatitis virus?
Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C are liver infections caused by three different viruses. Although each has a tendency to cause similar symptoms, they are capable of spreading in different ways and affect the liver differently.
  • Hepatitis A is usually a short-term infection.
  • Hepatitis B and  C can also begin as short-term infections, but the virus causes a chronic infection.
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    Why is the discovery of Hepatitis C so groundbreaking?
    There are vaccines to prevent Hepatitis A and B. However, there is still no vaccine available for Hepatitis C. This makes the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus a noteworthy accomplishment.
    Hepatitis C can vary from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, long-term illness. Hepatitis C is often divided into two parts: Acute and Chronic.
    • Acute hepatitis C takes effect within the first 6 months after being exposed to the hepatitis C virus. Mostly, acute infection leads to chronic infection.
    • Chronic hepatitis C can be a lifelong infection if left untreated. Chronic hepatitis C causes serious health implications including liver damage, cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver cancer and can even prove fatal.
    • The World Health Organisation estimates there are over 70 million cases of hepatitis worldwide and 400,000 deaths each year.
      How does Hepatitis C spread?
      The virus is often spread when someone comes into contact with blood from an infected person. This can happen in many ways:
      • Sharing drug-injection equipment:  Most people become infected with hepatitis C by sharing needles and syringes.
      • Birth:  Approximately 6 percent of infants born to infected mothers will get hepatitis C.
      • Healthcare exposures: Surprisingly rare, but people can become infected when health-care professionals do not follow the proper steps needed to prevent the spread of blood-borne infections.
      • Sex with an infected person:  Hepatitis C can spread during sex, though it has been reported more often among men.
      • Unregulated tattoos or body piercings: Hepatitis C can spread when getting tattoos or body piercings in unlicensed facilities and informal settings
      • Sharing personal items: People can become infected from sharing glucose monitors, razors, nail clippers, toothbrushes, and other items that may have come into contact with infected blood even in untraceable amounts.
      • Blood transfusions and organ transplants: Now, the risk of transmission to recipients of blood or blood products is extremely low but possible.
      • Though Hepatitis C is not spread by sharing food, breastfeeding, kissing, physical contact, coughing, or sneezing. Additionally, it is also not spread through food or water.
        What are the symptoms of Hepatitis C?
        Many newly infected people don’t show any symptoms. But for those who show symptoms, they usually happen 2–12 weeks after exposure to the hepatitis C virus and can include yellow skin or eyes, low appetite, upset stomach, throwing up, stomach pain, fever, dark urine, light-colored stool, joint pain and tirelessness.
        —With inputs from agencies and references from the CDC website
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