Hepatitis C is an infectious disease caused by the Hepatitis C virus, or HCV. It is spread through ...
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Hepatitis C is an infectious disease caused by the Hepatitis C virus, or HCV. It is spread through body fluids, most commonly blood. Once the virus enters the bloodstream, it travels to the liver and attaches to receptors on the surface of liver cells called hepatocytes. The virus's fatty or lipid coat merges with the cell's outer membrane, so that the virus's protein core is inside the cell. The coat on the core dissolves. This releases a strand of RNA, which carries viral genetic information. The virus takes over components of the cell called ribosomes, which produce an enzyme needed to reproduce the viral RNA. When there is enough of this enzyme, called RNA transcriptase, the viral RNA produces a copy of itself. This copy serves as a template, which is copied many times as the genetic material for new viruses. The viral RNA directs the ribosomes to produce proteins that form the virus's protein coat. They assemble around the RNA into new virus particles. The viruses travel to the membrane, which circle and release it with a new lipid coat. This process continues until the cell dies. Over time millions of liver cells can be destroyed. The immune system also attacks the infected cells. Both can damage the liver. About 75% of those infected develop chronic infection. At its mildest, there are no signs or symptoms. Serum enzymes - a blood test for liver disease - are normal, and liver biopsy shows only mild injury. Those with severe disease have symptoms, high blood levels of HCV RNA, elevated serum enzymes, and significant liver damage. At least 20% develop cirrhosis. Treatment options are available. See your doctor for further information.